Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:22:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Push to Privatise Education in Global South Challengedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/push-to-privatise-education-in-global-south-challenged/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:22:57 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140312 By Kwame Buist
LONDON, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

The multinational education and publishing company Pearson PLC was challenged during its annual general meeting on Apr. 24 by representatives of civil society and trade union groups over various profit-driven programmes aimed at expanding private education in numerous countries in the global South. 

As people arrived at the AGM, they were greeted by protesters with placards saying ‘Education is a right, not a commodity’ and ‘Stop cashing in on kids’.

In an open letter to the Pearson board published Apr. 24, civil society groups and trade unions including Global Justice Now, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) wrote that the company’s “activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels.

“From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the ‘test and punish’ efforts in the global North, to supporting the predatory, “low-fee” for-profit private schools in the global South, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “Pearson’s profit-driven agenda of pushing private education in the global south is at odds with the universal right of education that all children have.

“There is significant evidence to show that private education, even when ‘low cost’, ultimately increases segregation and marginalisation in society because access and quality depend on ability to pay. It’s even more disturbing that Pearson is getting U.K. taxpayers’ money in the form of aid from DfID to subsidise them in this process.”

According to Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, “Pearson’s activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels.  Pearson needs to end its involvement with fee-paying private schools in the global South; stops all practices that promote and support the obsession with high-stakes testing; and negotiates with teachers’ unions and others to secure agreement on the appropriate role of edu-business in education.

“Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society not private profit.”

Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL, said: “No one should forget that education is a human right which should not be perverted by the profit motive.  School curricula should not be patented and charged for.  Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed.

“Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people”.

The Pearson AGM took place on the same day that Global Justice Now published a report titled Profiting from poverty, again: DfID’s support for privatising education and health that accused the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfiD) of using aid money to set up private healthcare and education in Africa and Asia which has benefited British and American companies, including Pearson.

The report uses numerous examples to show DfID’s support for private education and healthcare in the global South including the Girls Education Challenge which claims to aim at helping “up to a million of the world’s poorest girls improve their lives through education and to find better ways of getting girls in school and ensuring they receive a quality of education to transform their future.”

DfiD is said to be spending the equivalent of 540 million dollars on the Girls Education Challenge during 2011-2017 and has devolved management of the project to Price Waterhouse Coopers, with the project portfolio showing private sector involvement in education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda.

Under the Girls Education Challenge, DfID is funding a project in Tanzania that also involves Pearson.

Meanwhile, says the report, DfID has chosen to partner with Coca-Cola, which claims it will promote “the economic empowerment of 5 million female entrepreneurs across the global Coca-Cola value chain.”

“Aid should be used to support human needs by building up public services in countries that don’t have the same levels of economic privilege as the United Kingdom,” said Dearden. “So it’s shocking that DfID is dogmatically promoting private health and education when it’s been shown that this approach actually entrenches inequality and endangers access.”

According to the Global Justice Now director, “aid is being used as a tool to convince, cajole and compel the majority of the world to undertake policies which help big corporations like Pearson, but which detract from the real need to promote publicly funded services that are universally accessible.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Committee Gets ‘Unhindered Access’ to Azerbaijan’s Detention Centres – But Is it Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:08:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140310 Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Months after being denied access to Azerbaijan’s places of detention, the head of the United Nation’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) announced Friday that her four-member delegation had successfully conducted investigations of Azerbaijani prisons, police stations and investigative isolation units.

“The Azerbaijani Government this time enabled unhindered access to places of deprivation of liberty,” confirmed Aisha Shujune Muhammad, head of the SPT delegation, in a statement published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated." -- Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch
As a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Azerbaijan is obliged to allow independent experts full access to sites of detention, but last September the SPT was forced to suspend its visit after being prevented from inspecting some sites and barred from completing its work at others, “in violation of Azerbaijan’s treaty obligations”, according to OHCHR.

This month, from Apr. 16-24, SPT members visited a range of sites including pre-trial detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and social care institutions.

On Friday the subcommittee presented its confidential preliminary observations to Azerbaijani authorities, including recommendations for strengthening systems to protect those persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment.

While welcoming the government’s cooperation, Muhammad stressed, “[The] State party has yet to guarantee all fundamental legal and procedural safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor, and to contact his or her family.”

Streets empty of political dissidents

The statement confirms what international watchdogs have been warning for the past few years: that ill treatment of prisoners and impunity, particularly with regards to political activists and journalists, is rampant in this land-locked nation of 9.4 million people.

“We have had long-standing concerns about conditions in detention and ill treatment and torture of people detained in police stations, in prisons and other facilities,” Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“We have huge concerns about fair trials and due process, so we don’t have a sense of optimism at all – nor do I read a lot of optimism into the SPT’s statement. I would not say the trajectory is good.”

She said the situation is particularly worrying for human rights defenders and the media, who are currently weathering a harsh government crackdown against any form of dissent.

In 2014 alone, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recorded over 35 cases of activists, journalists and human rights defenders who were detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

Buchanan said other, local groups have longer lists, whose numbers are closer to the 100 mark.

Even these could be conservative estimates, as many of those who would otherwise be monitoring violations of human rights are now behind bars, or have fled the country to escape prosecution.

“The government is effectively shutting down mechanisms for transparency and accountability for all kinds of things including torture and ill treatment,” she stated.

Amnesty International’s most recent country report for Azerbaijan echoes many of these concerns, highlighting cases like the arrest on May 6 of Kemale Benenyarli, a member of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) who subsequently alleged that she was “beaten, punched, dragged and locked in a cell, where she was kept without food and water until her trial the following morning.”

At the time of her arrest, Benenyarli was among a group of peaceful protestors gathered outside the Baku City Grave Crimes Court, demanding the release of jailed youth activists associated with the NIDA Civic Movement.

Amnesty also reported that another protestor arrested that day, Orkhan Eyyubzade, complained that he was “stripped naked, dragged by the hair, punched, kicked and threatened with rape after he engaged in an argument with police officers during his detention on May 15.”

Other allegations of torture in detention include the withholding of medical treatment, denial of necessary foods due to medical conditions, and the use of physical violence on the part of staff or cellmates, according to HRW’s Buchanan.

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated,” she added.

At present, rights groups say over 50 political prisoners are being held in jails around the country, largely on trumped-up charges.

European Games: A chance to shine a light on injustice?

Against the backdrop of serious rights allegations, which have been escalating since 2012, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games under the auspices of the Olympic Movement.

Over 6,000 athletes representing 50 countries are scheduled to participate in the event, which will run from Jun. 12-28 this year.

According to the London-based Business News Europe, the games are budgeted at an estimated eight billion dollars, and billed as the “most spectacular show in Azerbaijan’s history.”

While the government of President Ilham Aliyev hopes to use the games to spotlight his country’s economic development, rights groups are pushing the European Olympic Committees and key National Olympic Committees to instead shift the focus onto human rights abuses and political prisoners.

The Sports and Rights Alliance, a coalition comprised of the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Football Supporters Europe, and Transparency International Germany, recently submitted a letter to Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, arguing that the current crackdown on critics and dissidents is “at odds with key principles of the Olympic Charter that the European Games are meant to uphold.”

The Alliance also urged the sporting body to use its leverage with Azerbaijan to, among other things, demand the immediate and unconditional release of rights activists like Khajida Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Rauf Mirgadirov, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofig Yagulblu.

“Those participating in the European games being funded by the Azerbaijani government have a real obligation to speak out,” Buchanan stressed.

Among those receiving “funding” to attend the games is Britain’s team of 160 athletes. In February, the Guardian reported that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had admitted that the host country would cover the bulk of the costs associated with getting its teams to Baku.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Media Watchdog Unveils Top Ten Worst Censorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 21:11:42 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140306 The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

While technology has given millions greater freedom to express themselves, in the world’s 10 most censored countries, this basic right exists only on paper, if at all.

According to a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which will be officially released at U.N. headquarters on Apr. 27, the worst offenders are Eritrea and North Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar and Cuba."Countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed." -- CPJ's Courtney Radsch

Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director of CPJ, told IPS, “These countries use a wide range of traditional tactics of censorship, including jailing of journalists, harassment of journalists, prosecuting local press and independent press.”

According to CPJ’s 2014 prison census, Eritrea is Africa’s leading jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars – none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime. Among the other most censored countries on the list is China with 44, Iran with 30, and 17 jailed journalists in Ethiopia.

In countries where governments jail reporters regularly for critical coverage, many journalists are forced to flee rather than risk arrest, said the report.

Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Felix Horne, told IPS, “If you are a journalist in Ethiopia, you are faced with a stark choice: either you self-censor your writings, you end up in prison, or you are exiled from your country.”

According to the report Journalism is not a Crime, released by HRW in January 2015, over 30 journalists fled Ethiopia in 2014. Six of the last independent publications have shut down and there are at least 19 journalists and bloggers in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In both Ethiopia and Eritrea, anti-terrorism laws have been used to effectively silence dissenting voices and to target opposition politicians, journalists, and activists, Horne said.

“This law is the ultimate threat for Ethiopian journalists and its use against bloggers and journalists has led to increased rates of self-censorship amongst what is left of Ethiopia’s independent media scene.”

Traditional forms of censorship are going hand in hand with new subtle, modern, and faster strategies such as internet restrictions, regulation of media and press laws, and the limitation of mobile devices.

Radsch underlined, “The situation has gotten worse. We have seen a historical level of imprisonment of journalists and an increasing expansion of censorship (which) developed more sophisticated forms, including pre-publications censorship, restricted access to info content, and content regulations.”

The CPJ report says that in order to avoid an “Arab Spring” in Eritrea, the authorities have strongly limited internet access, with no possibility of gathering independent information.

Radsch highlighted that gathering public information through local internet access – the right to broadband – is recognised by the U.N., as a fundamental human right. But, in Eritrea and North Korea, as well as Cuba, the internet is essentially not permitted.

Access to mobile phones is also restricted.

“There are virtually no phones in Eritrea and there are limited phones in North Korea, where they can get in through smuggling networks from China,” she said, adding that these kind of restrictions are applied not only to reporters, but to the general public more broadly.

According to CPJ, globally, Eritrea has the lowest rate of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one. In North Korea, only 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, excluding phones smuggled in from China.

Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam and Azerbaijan, have internet, but its access is strongly limited through the blocking of web content, restrictive access regulations, and persecuting those who violates the rules, added Radsch.

Censorship in the 10 listed countries affect mainly local journalists, apart from the case of Egypt where foreign reporters have been imprisoned, said Radsch. But censorship is also applied to foreign correspondents in other ways, such as denying entry visas to those countries or by deporting them.

The previous two lists of most censored countries compiled by CPJ date back to 2006 and 2012.

Radsch said, “One of the reasons why we cannot publish these lists every year is because censorship tactics have not changed much from year to year. In general, countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed.”

To keep track of government data is difficult due to their lack of transparency, explained Radsch.

Although the international community is aware of human rights violations in repressive countries, concrete action to protect freedom of expression is still lacking.

Horne underlined that in Ethiopia, for instance, despite its dismal human rights record, the country continues to enjoy significant support from Western governments, both in relation to Ethiopia’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its role as a regional peacekeeper.

“But ignoring Ethiopia’s horrendous human rights situation and the internal tensions this is causing may have long-term implications for Western interests in the Horn of Africa,” Horne concluded.

CPJ is also calling on the international community to ensure that anti-terrorist laws are not used illegitimately by states to strengthen censorship even further against the press.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Planned Mega-Port in Brazil Threatens Rich Ecological Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:00:05 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140301 The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast’s long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the “unprecedented” environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the “Belo Monte of Bahia” – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex “shows a lack of respect for the region’s natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable,” activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”.

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

The project’s environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, “is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch,” Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, “the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population.” It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company’s total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil’s environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

“The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe,” Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin’s own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country’s third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine’s productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

“The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities,” Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

“The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company,” he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

“We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects,” said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Corruption in Southeast Asia Said to Threaten Economic Integrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 18:16:58 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140299 By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Rampant corruption across Southeast Asia threatens to derail plans for greater economic integration, according to Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption.

In a report titled ASEAN Integrity Community: A Vision for Transparent and Accountable Integration, released Apr. 24, the organisation calls on the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create a regional body that integrates anti-corruption principles into the framework of a proposed regional economic community.

If not, it says, hopes for shared prosperity, upward mobility and entrepreneurship will not be fulfilled.

“Southeast Asia is home to some of the richest, fastest-growing economies, as well as some of the planet’s poorest people. Battling corruption is an integral part to sustainable growth and reducing income inequality,” said Natalia Soebagjo, Chair of Transparency International Indonesia.

“Regional cooperation coupled with civil society and business community involvement in the development of an ASEAN Integrity Community are essential elements to ensure an economic community has a positive impact on the daily lives of Southeast Asians,” Soebagjo said.

According to the report, corruption continues to plague most of the 10 ASEAN member countries. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2014 shows that the nine of them scored an average of 38 out of 100 (where 100 is very clean and 0 is highly corrupt).

Furthermore, almost 50 percent of people in ASEAN countries surveyed believe corruption has increased, while only one-third say that their government’s efforts to fight corruption have been effective, according to the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, a public opinion survey by Transparency International.

Given the grand scale of corruption in the region, argues the report, the proposed ASEAN Integrity Community is an absolute necessity. Through this community, ASEAN can establish effective anti-corruption policies, legislation and strategies, achieve strong and effective anti-corruption institutions, enhance mutual collaboration to fight corruption, and bring about meaningful engagement with civil society and the business sector in the region.

“ASEAN governments should take the lead in declaring and defining their vision of the ASEAN Integrity Community,” said Srirak Plipat, Transparency International Regional Director for Asia Pacific. “The business community and civil society should stand ready to support them to realise the joint ASEAN Integrity Community vision.”

The governments of Malaysia and Myanmar are reported as having already shown support for the creation of an Integrated Community.

“A series of ministerial meetings must be created to set priorities and carry out action plans, which are severely needed due to delays in the past decade,” said Plipat. “Platforms for business and civil society must be created so that they can contribute to one coherent and strategic framework of the ASEAN Integrity Community, as opposed to a random and organic approach as in the past.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: To Solve Hunger, Start with Soilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:44:03 +0000 Anne-Marie Steyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140293 Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

By Anne-Marie Steyn
NAIROBI, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Peter looked confused as he recounted how he’d painstakingly planted potatoes to sell and to feed his family of eight, only to find that when harvest time rolled around he had been greeted with tiny tubers not much bigger than golf balls.

A young farmer living in Bomet County in Kenya, Peter had recently been ‘shaped up’ on film, as part of our farming reality TV show Shamba Shape Up. The show is aired as a six-month-long (one growing season) series of 30-minute television programmes on leading channels in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda 2012 to audiences across Kenya.Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

It is Africa’s first makeover reality television programme using real experts to show small-scale farmers how to improve pest management, irrigation, cattle rearing, poultry keeping, financial education and crop management techniques, in an engaging yet informative way.

Peter’s story is discouraging, yet it’s happening to farmers all over Africa, not just with potatoes but all manner of crops that just don’t grow like they should.

One reason for this is that the very soil in sub-Saharan Africa that should be a fertile home for helping crops thrive, is degraded, acidic, and simply won’t support crop growth. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 65 per cent of Africa’s arable land is depleted of vital nutrients, which have been taken from the soil through continuous farming, and never replaced.  Sub-Saharan Africa represents 10 per cent of the total global population yet only 0.8 per cent of total fertiliser use.

In a region that is struggling to feed itself, addressing soil health is already a critical issue. But we need to start by showing the farmers themselves why it is so important, and why investing in soil health will pay off. Most farmers simply do not understand the importance of looking after the soil to their farm, and apply the same fertiliser, without knowing if it is the right one, season after season for their whole farming lives.

Of the 180 farms Shamba Shape Up has worked with, only one had ever conducted a soil test, to find out what kind of nutrients they needed to boost productivity. Yet when we survey farmers, or review requests coming in through our SMS information service, the topics of fertiliser, soil fertility and soil testing are among the most requested.

It is clear that there is a great knowledge gap. Bridging this gap, and educating farmers on soil health is going to be critical, if we are to meet the proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end hunger by 2030. And monitoring farmer outreach that takes place on effective soil management practices could be an effective way to track this progress.

Peter got some advice for his potatoes. An expert recommended the Viazi Power Programme, which uses a combination of nutrients that are applied to the potato crop at various stages of growth. This treatment has helped farmers on one acre of land to reach yields of 50 to 80 sacks of potatoes, that are large and of a good quality.

But Peter had actually tried to use the Viazi Power Programme in the past, and failed. His downfall was using recycled seeds from his farm that were not certified, and carried Bacterial Wilt. Sending three children to school, Peter couldn’t afford the higher price of the clean seed.

Lack of access to finance is a key obstacle to farmers taking on soil health techniques. But here is where education once again plays a vital role: if farmers are shown the return they can have on their investment and how to realise this gain, more will be encouraged to adopt more costly practices.

Shamba Shape Up now includes a soil health element in every episode we produce, and our method of farmer education is proving successful. Of the 50 per cent of the audience who adopt new practices every year from the show, 97 per cent say that the change caused an increase in money or food production from their farm.

A recent study by Reading University estimated that farmers who adopted a soil-related improvement in their maize as a result of Shamba Shape Up shows in Nakuru doubled their production. In Muranga, yields were quadrupled. For families living on 30 to 150 dollars per month, doubled production can mean school fees or surviving an illness.

As negotiators finalise the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations later this year, we urge them to consider farmers like Peter, and the life changing transformation that better education on soil health could bring to families like his.

Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

The world cannot accept defeat on such an important issue; instead we must empower farmers like Peter to win these battles, for his family, his country and his continent.

Explore Farming First’s new online essay “The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals” for more on this topic.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140290

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Talk of Death Squads to Combat New Wave of Gang Violence in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:00:23 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140280 The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy.

After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege in the most violent urban areas, and the government ordered the creation of three quick response battalions, similar to the ones that operated during the 1980-1992 civil war.

These military units were responsible for a number of massacres of civilians, such as the 1981 mass killing in the village of El Mozote in the northern department of Morazán, where more than 1,000 rural villagers were killed by members of the Atlacatl battalion.

Meanwhile, police and local residents are openly discussing the creation of groups to exterminate gangs, along the lines of far-right paramilitary death squads active in the country from the 1970s until the end of the armed conflict in 1992.“This escalation of violence could have been avoided if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs.” -- Félix Arévalo

“It is extremely dangerous to be talking about a state of siege and all that, because it could affect the country’s democratic process,” the coordinator of the ecumenical Pastoral Initiative for Peace and Life (IPAZ), Félix Arévalo, told IPS.

IPAZ brings together leaders from different religious faiths seeking a negotiated solution to the problem of gang violence plaguing this impoverished Central American nation of 6.3 million.

If approved by parliament, the state of siege would suspend constitutional guarantees such as freedom of assembly and free passage, while militarising areas with high murder rates.

The last time a state of siege was declared in El Salvador was during the November 1989 guerrilla offensive known as “To the limit”, in the midst of the armed conflict that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 “disappeared”.

The country is now governed by one of the former guerrilla leaders, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the 1992 peace accords and has been in power since 2009.

His government says the new wave of violence is part of a backlash by the gangs against the Feb. 14 transfer of their leaders from a medium to a maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, located in the city of Zacatecoluca, 41 km east of San Salvador.

The transferred prisoners included several of the heads of the MS13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs that reached a truce in March 2012 which led to a sharp drop in the number of murders.

Raúl Mijango, who helped broker the truce, told IPS that as a result of the decision to isolate the leaders, younger, more fanatic members who have made violence a way of life now lead the gangs’ activities.

“The last thing these young men are thinking about is stopping this conflict,” he said.

The truce collapsed in May 2013, when then President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) of the FMLN was forced to remove the minister of justice and security, General David Munguía, one of the main drivers of the talks from within the government, over a technicality.

As of Monday Apr. 20, the gangs had killed – besides civilians – 20 police officers, six members of the military, one prosecutor and six prison guards in an undeclared war also fuelled by the police and military response that has left dozens of gang members dead in clashes.

On Apr. 18, nine gang members were shot by a military squadron in Uluapa Arriba, in the city of Zacatecoluca.

Some police have even openly talked about killing gang members.

“When they (the gang members) run into us, we’re going to kill them,” one police officer wearing a face mask told a local TV station.

And circulating on the social networks are amateur videos of police and locals urging people to kill the “mareros” – members of the gangs or “maras” as they are known in Central America – the same way death squads killed left-wing opponents during the war.

In March, the number of homicides shot up. That month was the most violent so far in the last decade, according to police figures: 481 homicides, an average of 16 murders a day, 56.2 percent more than in March 2014.

If that tendency holds steady, by the end of this year more than 5,000 murders will have been committed, for a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 population, far above the already high 2014 rate of 63 per 100,000.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The average Latin American murder rate is 29 per 100,000 inhabitants and the global average is 6.2.

The driving force behind the call for a state of siege are lawmakers from the right-wing Great Alliance for National Union, which holds 11 of the 84 seats in the single-chamber legislature whose term begins May 1, after the March elections.

“This escalation of violence could have been avoided,” said Arévalo, “if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs” – an idea that is staunchly opposed by most political factions, due to society’s outrage against the gangs, which have an estimated combined total of 60,00 members.

In January the government of Sánchez Cerén cut off any possibility of dialogue with the gangs.

Roberto Valent, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS that the scaling up of gang activity was in part a response to the state’s attempt, through a stepped-up police presence, to reassert control over territory in the hands of gangs.

Police action is important, he said, to pave the way for prevention, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reinsertion in those areas.

“It’s clearly a reaction to what the state is doing,” said Valent, who was technical coordinator of the National Council for Citizen Security and Coexistence.

The Council, set up by the president in September 2014, was tasked with setting forth proposals for fighting crime, with the participation of different segments of society and technical support from international donors.

In January, the Council proposed 124 measures that the government plans to adopt to fight the wave of crime and violence. Part of the two billion dollars needed to implement a five-year plan have been obtained.

The programme will include educational, healthcare and recreational initiatives, while creating 250,000 jobs for at-risk youngsters.

But in practice, the government has demonstrated more interest in stiffening its policy of cracking down on crime by stepping up police and military action.

The president has announced a restructuring and strengthening of the police, as well as the creation of more elite units to combat the gangs.

IPAZ’s Arévalo said it should be the other way around: “less police action and more prevention and reinsertion.”

“We have stirred up a hornet’s nest; the government acted mistakenly, you can’t implement a plan with corpses falling every which way,” he argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: The World Has Reached Peak Plutocracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:11:01 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140276 The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

Parents in despair because they can’t pay the fees at the privatised neighbourhood school…

Families left without healthcare because the mining company that pollutes their river also dodges the taxes that could pay for their treatment…

Women getting four hours of sleep a night as they try to balance caring for their families and homes with earning income…

Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose

Whole communities thrown off their land to make way for a foreign company…

Workers paid so little by employers that they’re suffering malnutrition.

These are just a few of the reports I’ve heard from my colleagues in recent months.

We see people frustrated by the surge in the power of the plutocrats.

Plutocracy is a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest. The rich have always been powerful; some element of plutocracy has been present in all societies.

But the degree of control being exercised now; the number of the ultra-rich essentially buying political power; the nearly impossible persistence required to overcome the legal, public relations, and technical resources controlled by corporations and the richest individuals; the much denser concentration of wealth in even the largest countries; and the global nature of the resources, power, and connections being accumulated have combined to foreclose meaningful democratic options and space for a life independent of the materialistic values of the plutocracy.The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy.

The logic that undergirds all of this – the greed for money, power, and control – is antithetical to preserving an environment in which living things can thrive. Through most of human history we have endured various unbalanced political and social systems.

Today’s market economy has roots going back centuries, but only in this one has it become so monolithic, with virtually the entire world under its spell.

We are living in an age of hyper-capitalism: we have gone beyond industrialisation and value-addition to a point where the rules are written by the financiers, and the finance industry, rather than a sector that actually makes something, has become arguably the most politically powerful industry in history.

A brief period of relative equality in the richer countries after World War II gave way from the late 1970s to a powerful ideology of competition, unending growth, and unhindered profit. This ideology was charted deliberately by institutes lavishly funded by aspiring plutocrats.

The denial of limits, the privileging of competition and profit over cooperation and public goods, and the capitulation of governments to the power of money has made the modern plutocracy a dominant reality, and one that must be reversed.

Commentators now routinely speak of how people can “contribute to the economy.” The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy. “Freedom” has been reconfigured to refer to consumer choice rather than the ability to determine how to order one’s life.

A few years ago there was considerable debate about the concept of “peak oil” – the possibility we were reaching the beginning of the end of usable petroleum supplies. We may be reaching a more dangerous point: peak plutocracy, where society and the environment can sustain no more concentration of power and resources.

So it is worrying to hear so consistently from colleagues around the world the extent to which the power of people is being curtailed by the people with power.

We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:

• the so far largely successful efforts of business interests to prevent meaningful action on climate change;

• the push for high-input, high-tech, restricted-ownership agriculture that excludes smallholder farmers – a great portion of them women — who feed most of the world’s people;

• the collusion of governments and companies in taking control of land and natural resources from communities in order to generate profits for privileged outsiders;

• the “race to the bottom” among governments to sacrifice revenues through blanket “tax holidays” in order to lure foreign investment, even when the benefits are unclear or negligible;

• the failure of governments to establish laws that protect workers from abuses ranging from trafficking to unlivable wages to unacceptably risky working conditions, with women workers in the most precarious, low-paid and inhumane jobs;

• the failure to recognise the systematic abuse of women’s rights in many areas – but in particular the deep uncompensated subsidies women provide to all economies with their unpaid and low-paid care work that keep families and societies functioning;

• the pressure put on countries – and more recently the collusion between governments and companies – to change commercial and consumer-protection laws so that foreign companies can dominate markets;

• the use of coercion, including violence, by powerful elites in private enterprises, fundamentalist movements, and repressive regimes to control women’s bodies and sexual and reproductive choices, their labour, mobility and political voice;

• the pressure to privatize schools at the expense of decent public education, despite the complete absence of evidence that the results will be beneficial to anyone beside the owners;

• the unwarranted scorn directed at the public sector, and the pervasive recourse to the notion of “private sector led development” by most donor countries and inter-governmental institutions, even in the absence of positive models

• the fetishization of foreign direct investment in low-income countries despite compelling evidence that no country has achieved sustainable development with foreign capital;

• the increasing congruence of interests among governments, corporations, and elites in limiting the freedom of action of social movements and public interest groups, constricting political space in all parts of the world;

• the increasing domination of wealthy corporations and individuals in United Nations debates and processes.

• the brazen ideological defense of inequality and massive concentration of power and resources by wealthy individuals and the institutes they fund;

• the increasing number of disasters and emergencies are turned into profit opportunities, as affected areas are remade according to the plutocrats’ rules.

• the refusal of governments to combat the global youth unemployment crisis with public jobs programs to address the widely-acknowledged looming crisis of deteriorating infrastructure;

• the fallacy of scarcity revealed by the capacity of governments to find massive public financial resources for war and bank bailouts, but seldom for programs that would employ people, combat hunger and disease, and foster renewable energy.

The hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has corrupted democratic systems, in rich countries as well as in poor ones.

We need to democratise power. But that doesn’t mean just better monitoring of elections. It means making power more horizontal, more accessible to more people, the people who are affected by the decisions made.

There is no one-off recipe for making this happen. It has to happen over and over again, every day, everywhere, with increasing connections so that we won’t be crowded out by those with money and influence. We have to occupy space and not leave it, and then occupy some more.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Challenging the Nuclear Powers’ Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:26:48 +0000 Joseph Gerson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140272 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Dr. Joseph Gerson
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference five years ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that governments alone will not rid the world of the specter of nuclear annihilation.

Addressing an assembly of movement and civil society activists, he expressed heartfelt sympathy and appreciation for our efforts, urging us to remain steadfast in our outreach, education, organising and in pressing our demands.Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

As if to prove the secretary-general’s critique of governments correct, anyone who has been paying attention knows that this year’s Review Conference is in trouble before it starts. It could fail, jeopardising the future of the treaty and – more importantly – human survival.

In the tradition of diplomatic understatement, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Angela Kane has explained that this is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

Apparently not understanding the meaning and purpose of treaties, and with remarkable disregard for the vast majority of the world’s nations which have long been demanding that the nuclear powers fulfill their NPT Article VI obligation to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, lead U.S. Non-Proliferation negotiator Adam Scheinman warned that “countries not pursue extreme agendas or place unrealistic demands on the treaty.”

Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

Joseph Rotblat, the realist Nobel Laureate and single senior Manhattan Project scientist to quit the nuclear bomb project for moral reasons, put it well years ago while speaking in Hiroshima. He explained that the human species faces a stark choice.

We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will face their global proliferation and the omnicidal nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceived to be an unequal balance of power, in this case nuclear terror.

Blinded by the arrogance of power, Schienmen and his Nuclear Nine comrades are apparently oblivious to the mounting anger and loss of trust by the world’s governments in the face of the nuclear powers’ disregard for their Article VI obligations, traditional humanitarian law, and the dangers to human survival that follow.

As a U.S. American, I had something of an Alice in Wonderland “through the looking glass” experience observing the U.N. High Level Conference on Disarmament debate in 2013.

After the opening formalities, Iranian President Rouhani spoke on behalf of both his country and the Non-Aligned Movement, stressing three points: Iran does not intend to become a nuclear weapons state.

The P-5 Nuclear Powers have flaunted their refusal to fulfill their Article VI NPT obligation to commence good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. And, the United States had refused to fulfill its 2010 NPT Review Conference commitment to co-convene a conference on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone.

What was remarkable was not Rouhani’s speech. It was the succession of one head of state, foreign minister and ambassador after another who rose to associate his or her government with the statement made by President Rouhani on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The U.S. response? A feeble and arrogant “trust us”, followed by the announcement that under Chinese leadership the P-5 had almost completed work on a glossary of terms.

Similar dynamics followed at the International Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons in Mexico and Austria, which were attended by the vast majority of the world’s nations.

The tiny New START Treaty reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which leaves them still holding more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals – more than enough to inflict Nuclear Winter many times over – won’t pacify the world’s nations.

Nor will the recent U.S.-Iran deal which the U.S. Congress has placed in jeopardy. On the eve of the 2015 Review Conference the inability of other nations to trust commitments made by the United States are one more reason the Review Conference and the NPT itself could fail.

Add to this the new era of military confrontations, resumption of nuclear (and other) arms races, and continuing nuclear threats from the simulated U.S. nuclear attack on North Korea to the U.S. and Russian nuclear “exercises” over Ukraine.

What are other nations to think when the U.S. is on track to spend a trillion dollars for new nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and every other nuclear power is following suit?

Clearly Ban Ki-moon was right.

And as anti-slavery abolitionist Fredrick Douglas observed more than a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never has, and it never will.”

This is why nuclear abolitionists, peace, justice and environmental advocates – including 1,000 Japanese activists carrying five million abolition petition signatures in their suitcases – are returning to New York from across the United States and around the world for the Peace & Planet mobilisation on the eve of this year’s NPT review conference.

We’re anything but starry eyed.

Recognising that change will only come from below, our international conference at The Cooper Union and our rally, march and festival in the streets will press our central demand: Respect for international law.

The Review Conference must mandate the beginning of good faith negotiations for the abolition of the world’s nuclear weapons. And, being the realists that we are, we will be building the more powerful and issue-integrated (abolition, peace, economic and social justice and climate change) people’s movement needed for the longer-term and urgent struggle ahead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Two Years After Rana Plaza Tragedy, Rights Abuses Still Rampant in Bangladesh’s Garment Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:21:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140264 Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Naimul Haq
DHAKA/UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Some say they were beaten with iron bars. Others confess their families have been threatened with death. One pregnant woman was assaulted with metal curtain rods.

These are not scenes typically associated with a place of work, but thousands of people employed in garment factories in Bangladesh have come to expect such brutality as a part of their daily lives.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times [...]. The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers." -- Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum
Even if they don’t suffer physical assault, workers at the roughly 4,500 factories that form the nucleus of Bangladesh’s enormous garments industry almost certainly confront other injustices: unpaid overtime, sexual or verbal abuse, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

Two years ago, when all the world’s eyes were trained on this South Asian nation of 156 million people, workers had hoped that the end of systematic labour abuse was nigh.

The event that prompted the international outcry – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the morning of Apr. 24, 2013, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 more – was deemed one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

Government officials, powerful trade bodies and major foreign buyers of Bangladesh-made apparel promised to fix the gaping flaws in this sector that employs four million people and exports 24 billion dollars worth of merchandise every year.

Promises were made at every point along the supply chain that such a senseless tragedy would never again occur.

But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster has found that, despite pledges made and some steps in the right direction, Bangladesh’s garments sector is still plagued with many ills that is making life for the 20 million people who depend directly or indirectly on the industry a waking nightmare.

Based on interviews with some 160 workers in 44 factories, predominantly dedicated to manufacturing garments sold by retailers in Australia, Europe and North America, the report found that safety standards are still low, workplace abuse is common, and union busting – as well as violence attacks and intimidation of union organisers – is the norm.

Violation of labour laws

Last December the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for factory workers from 39 dollars a month to 68 dollars. While this signified a sizable increase, it was still less than the 100-dollar wage workers themselves had demanded.

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Furthermore, implementation has been slow. According to Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum representing 80,000 workers, only 40 percent of employers comply with the minimum wage law.

She told IPS that women, who comprise the bulk of factory workers, form the “lifeblood” of this vital industry that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 10 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP); yet they have fallen victim to “exploitative wages” as a result of retailers demanding competitive prices.

Indeed, many factories owners concur that pressure from companies who place bulk orders to scale up production lines and improve profit margins contributes to the culture of cutting corners, since branded retailers seldom factor compliance of safety and labour regulations into their costing.

“[These] financial costs [are] heavy for the factory owners,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “They argue that a small compromise on the profit margin can go a long way in helping Bangladesh factories achieve compliance.”

Wherever the blame for non-compliance lies, the negative consequences for workers – especially the women – are undeniable: an April 2014 survey by Democracy International found that 37 percent of workers reported lack of paid sick leave, while 29 percent lacked paid maternity leave.

Workers who are unable to meet production targets have their salaries docked, while HRW’s research indicates that “workers in almost all of the factories” complained of not receiving wages or benefits in full, or on time.

Forced overtime is exceedingly common, as are poor sanitation facilities and unclean drinking water.

Collective bargaining – a risky business

Faced with such entrenched and systematic violations of their rights, many garment workers are aware that their best chance for securing decent working conditions lies in their collective bargaining power.

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

But union busting and other anti-union activity are rampant across the garments sector, with many organisers beaten into submission and scores of others terrorised into keeping their heads down.

Although Bangladesh has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, those who try to exercise these rights face harsh reprisals.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times but later released because they found no [evidence] against me,” Mishu, of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, told IPS. “The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers. Whenever we raise our voices against the garments factory owners, instead of negotiating with us they apply force to silence us.”

Mishu’s testimony finds echoes in numerous incidents recorded in HRW’s report, including an attack in February last year on four activists with the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity (BFWS) that left one of their number so badly injured he had to spend 100 days in hospital.

Their only crime was helping employees at the Korean-owned Chunji Knit Ltd. Factory fill out union registrations forms.

Other incidents include a woman being hospitalised after an attack by men wielding cutting shears, activists threatened with death or the death of their families, and one organiser being accosted on his way home and slashed so badly with blades he had to be admitted to hospital.

“We find that factory owners […] use local thugs to intimidate and attack union organisers, often outside the factory premises,” HRW’s Ganguly explained. “And then they blithely disclaim responsibility by saying that the attacks had nothing to do with the factory.”

In one of the worst examples of anti-union activity, HRW reported that an activist named Aminul Islam was “abducted, tortured and killed in April 2012, and to date his killers have not been found.”

Although hard-won reforms have raised the number of unions formally registered at the labour department from just two in 2011-2012 to 416 in 2015, overall representation of workers remains low: union exist in just 10 percent of garment factories across Bangladesh.

Factory safety

Ganguly told IPS that because the Bangladesh garment industry grew very rapidly, “a lot of factories were set up bypassing safety and other compliance issues.”

Between 1983-4 and 2013-14, the sector mushroomed from just 120,000 employees working in 384 factories to four million workers churning out garments at a terrific rate in 4,536 factories, which run the gamut from state-of-the-art industrial operations to “backstreet workshops” and everything in-between.

Unchecked expansion in the 80s and 90s meant that many of these buildings were disasters waiting to happen. While incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 people, have largely taken the spotlight, a string of similar calamities both before and after suggest that Bangladesh has a long way to go to ensure worker safety.

Figures quoted by the Clean Clothes Campaign point out that between 2006 and 2010, 500 workers died in factory fires, 80 percent of which were caused by faulty wiring.

Since 2012, 68 factory fires have claimed 30 lives and left 800 workers injured, according to the Solidarity Center.

Atiqul Islam, president of the industry’s leading trade body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that factory owners are taking far more precautions now to ensure that preventable or ‘man-made’ disasters remain a thing of the past.

Before the Rana Plaze incident, he said, there were only 56 inspectors overseeing thousands of factories. Now, there are over 800 inspectors, trained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to keep a check on the many operations around the country.

Indeed, regulations like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an initiative carried out on behalf of 175 retailers based primarily in Europe, which is overseeing improvements in over 1,600 factors, as well as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that is looking into improvements in 587 factories at the behest of 26 North American retailers, indicate progress.

But as Ganguly said, “Much more needs to be done to ensure worker rights.”

For a start, experts say that proper compensation must be paid to survivors, or families of those who lost their lives due to negligence in the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions disasters.

As of March of this year, only 21 million dollars of the estimated 31 million dollars’ compensation has so far been pledged or disbursed. HRW also found that “15 companies whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza by journalists and labour activists have not paid anything into the trust fund established with the support of the ILO to manage the payments.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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East African Environmental Activist Wins Major Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/east-african-environmental-activist-wins-major-prize/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:17:45 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140262 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On Earth Day, Apr. 22, Kenyan activist Phyllis Omido takes the stage in Washington DC to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to defend her community from lead poisoning and force the closure of a lead smelting plant that was emitting fumes and spewing untreated acid wastewater into streams, poisoning the neighbourhood – including her own baby.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

Courtesy of the Goldman Prize.

“At first we thought he had malaria or typhoid, but doctors found he was suffering from lead poisoning,” Omido recalled. The lead was traced to a smelter where Phyllis had recently started work as a community liaison officer.

“The doctors said the lead reached my baby through my breast milk,” Phyllis said in London last week as she made the trip to the U.S. to receive the Africa award of the prestigious Goldman prize.

The smelter – built in the heart of Owino Uhuru, a densely-packed slum in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city – extracted lead from used car batteries. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It damages the development of children, targeting the brain and nervous system.

The smelter began operations in 2009 without any environmental impact assessment (EIA). One of Phyllis’s first jobs was to commission one. The findings revealed that the smelter was poisoning the neighbourhood, but the company was unwilling to move.

“I went to the company’s directors and the government’s environment agency, which had licensed the smelter. I showed them reports from lead experts. But nobody wanted to listen,” she says. Meanwhile, children were getting sick; women were having miscarriages; even the neighbourhood chickens were dying.

She claims that the company routinely sacked workers after a few months because it knew their exposure to lead was unsafe. But after a worker died, the community held a demonstration. A local MP, who was also a minister for the environment, came. “We hoped he would help. But he said we should keep quiet because the company brought jobs. He accused me of being in league with his political opponents.”

After a long struggle, with help from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic waste, she was able to see the company close the plant in 2014.

Since then, she has set up a local NGO, the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, to fight other causes like salt miners who are damaging Kenya’s nearby coastal fisheries. And she has more work to do in Owino Uhuru.

Omido and the other prize recipients – from Myanmar, Canada, Haiti, Scotland and Honduras – will each receive 175,000 dollars for their ongoing work. Dana King and conservation scientist Dr. M Sanjayan will be Masters of Ceremonies. For more information about the prize, visit the website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Water Politics Polarised in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/water-politics-polarised-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-politics-polarised-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/water-politics-polarised-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:04:08 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140241 Greenpeace activists on the Santiago river, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, protesting against industrial pollution of water courses in 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists on the Santiago river, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, protesting against industrial pollution of water courses in 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Laura Romero has piped water in her home for only a few hours a day, and at least once a week she is cut off completely. Like the rest of the residents in her neighbourhood in the north of the Mexican capital, she has to store water in containers like drums or jerrycans.

“When there is no water, they send out water trucks. We insist they should mend the leaks in the infrastructure, but they tell us they have to draw up preliminary specifications” in order to calculate costs, Romero, a member of the Frente de Organizaciones Sociales en Defensa de Azcapotzalco (Front of Social Organisations in Defence of Azcapotzalco), complained to IPS.

The Front manages public funds to build low-cost social housing on preferential terms in Azcapotzalco, a middle-class neighbourhood. In December a batch of these houses was completed, but the Mexico City government’s water authorities refused to connect the water supply, and the Front fears the same will happen with another of their construction projects.

“The government says that each person must pay 8,000 pesos (about 350 dollars) to be connected (to the water supply),” Romero said.

In contrast, there are at least six shopping malls and one entertainment centre in the area that have a permanent water supply.

Issues related to availability, quality, pollution, monopoly and overuse are putting water resources under pressure in this Latin American country of 118 million people. World Water Day was celebrated Sunday Mar. 22, with the theme for this year being Water and Sustainable Development.

In Mexico water assets are regarded as a national public resource, supervised by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and administered by the central government, state and municipal governments, which are empowered to grant distribution and management concessions, including handing over water resources to the industrial and agricultural sectors.

A constitutional reform in 2012 defined water as a human right, but there has been no improvement in the water situation in the country as a result of this change.

“Many bodies of water are polluted, and many communities have problems with water supply,” said Omar Arellano, coordinator of the Ecotoxicology group, part of the Union of Scientists Committed to Society’s (UCCS) Social and Environmental Observatory Programme.

Arellano, an academic at the Biomedical Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS that “in recent years a number of river diversion schemes have put local settlements at risk and altered water cycles.” These schemes, he said, were one of the causes of the problems.

Arellano is one of the authors of the 2012 study “La contaminación en la cuenca del río Santiago y la salud pública en la región” (Pollution in the Santiago river basin and public health in the region), which found that 280 companies dump toxic effluents into the river.

They reported that this river in the western state of Jalisco is contaminated with 1,090 hazardous pollutants and poses a health and environmental risk for some 700,000 people living along its banks. The situation in this river basin is just one example of what is happening in other parts of Mexico.

Employees of the state water and sanitation agency in the city of Toluca in Mexico state, 66 kilometres from Mexico City, carry out maintenance work at a water treatment plant. Credit: Courtesy of Organismo Agua y Saneamiento de Toluca

Employees of the state water and sanitation agency in the city of Toluca in Mexico state, 66 kilometres from Mexico City, carry out maintenance work at a water treatment plant. Credit: Courtesy of Organismo Agua y Saneamiento de Toluca

There is water, but not for everyone

The National Water Resources Plan for 2014-2018 indicates that average natural water availability per capita in Mexico fell from 18,035 cubic metres a year in 1950 to 3,982 cubic metres in 2013.

In spite of this reduction, water availability is not the main problem. United Nations guidelines state that countries with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year suffer from water scarcity, and those with between 1,000 and 1,700 cubic metres per person face water stress.

In absolute terms, Mexico has an average annual water availability of 471 billion cubic metres, according to CONAGUA’s Water Atlas 2013, including surface and underground water as well as water imported from the United States under bilateral treaties.

However, nearly 14 million people have no water in their homes. The problem is greatest in the states of Veracruz (southeast), Guerrero (southwest), and Mexico state (centre) adjacent to the nation’s capital.

Moreover, 34 million people depend for their water on aquifers that are gradually drying out.

The National Water Resources Plan recognises that ethnic minorities and women, especially in rural and peri-urban areas, suffer the most from lack of drinking water and sanitation.

Claudia Campero, the Latin America representative for the Canadian NGO Blue Planet Network, told IPS that the constitutional reform “is an opportunity to change the paradigm: we want a sustainable vision for the future of water.”

Mexico was supposed to amend its 1992 General Water Law, to bring it into line with the 2012 constitutional reform, by February 2013, but this has not yet happened.

Meanwhile, water disputes among users, communities, organisations, the government and private interests have been exacerbated by the presentation of two contradictory bills.

On Feb. 9 a coalition of social organisations and academics presented a citizens’ proposal for a new General Water Law that would guarantee water for human consumption and economic activities, systematic recycling, local management at the river basin level and the creation of a special fund.

Earlier, in March 2014, CONAGUA sent a bill to Congress but the text raised massive negative reactions and was removed from the parliamentary agenda on Mar. 9, 2015.

De facto privatisation

The organisations and academics blocked the CONAGUA bill because they viewed it as a water privatisation measure that commodifies the resource, bans research into water quality and levels of pollution, and favours diversion of the flow of rivers and the construction of dams and other works.

“The risk is that inequality will increase. We need comprehensive management of water resources,” said Arellano.

De facto privatisation of water services has continued to advance slowly in Mexico in a number of different ways.

In the city of Saltillo, north of Mexico City, and in Aguascalientes in the centre of the country, water management is in private hands. In the Mexican capital itself, four private concessions have been granted for metering water consumption and collecting water rates.

Breweries, dairy producers, water bottling plants, makers of soft drinks, mining companies and even investment funds have obtained water concessions, according to studies by several academic authors.

Agua para Tod@s, Agua para la Vida (Water for All, Water for Life) is a network made up of more than 400 researchers and 30 NGOs that has created a map of water conflicts sparked by deforestation, overuse, pollution and other causes.

In 2013 the volume of water handed over in concession for use in agriculture and industry surpassed 82 billion cubic metres, 51 billion of which came from surface sources and 31 billion from aquifers.

“There is a lack of transparency about which companies have benefited from privatisation. There is no need to wait 20 years to see its effects,” Campero said.

Mexico is highly vulnerable to climate change, which is causing temperature fluctuations, drought, anomalous rainfall and variations in river flow. It is predicted that by 2030, availability of surface and underground water in the country will be affected.

By 2030 – in 15 years’ time – demand is forecast to increase to over 91 billion cubic metres while supply will only reach 68 billion cubic metres, a gap between supply and demand for which innovative solutions have still not been envisaged.

“We want water; it is not fair that the state should deny us access to it,” complained Romero in the Azcapotzalco neighbourhood of Mexico City.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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U.N. Helpless as Crises Rage in 10 Critical Hot Spotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:22:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140252 A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

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

The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against a rash of political and humanitarian crises in 10 of the world’s critical “hot spots.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says even the U.N.’s 193 member states cannot, by themselves, help resolve these widespread conflicts.“We need more support and more financial help. But, most importantly, we need political solutions.” -- U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric

“Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be, including the United States, can do it,” he warned last week.

The world’s current political hotspots include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic – not forgetting West Africa which is battling the spread of the deadly disease Ebola.

Historically, the United Nations has grappled with one or two crises at any given time. But handling 10 such crises at one and the same time, said Ban, was rare and unprecedented in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

Although the international community looks to the world body to resolve these problems, “the United Nations cannot handle it alone. We need collective power and solidarity, otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles,” Ban said.

But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.

Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager, told IPS the situation is serious and Oxfam is very concerned. At the end of 2013, she said, violent conflict and human rights violations had displaced 51 million people, the highest number ever recorded.

In 2014, the U.N. appealed for assistance for 81 million people, including displaced persons and others affected by protracted situations of conflict and natural disaster.

Right now, the humanitarian system is responding to four emergencies – those the U.N. considers the most severe and large-scale – which are Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria.

These crises alone have left 20 million people vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, violence, and death, and in need of aid and protection, she added.

Then you have the crises in Yemen, where two out of three people need humanitarian assistance; West Africa, with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asking for eight billion dollars to recover from Ebola; in Somalia, remittance flows that amount to 1.3 billion dollars annually, and are a lifeline to millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance, have been cut or driven underground due to banking restrictions; and then there is the migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where almost 1,000 people have died trying to escape horrible situations in their home countries, Scribner said.

The United Nations says it needs about 16 billion dollars to meet humanitarian needs, including food, shelter and medicine, for over 55 million refugees worldwide.

But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday virtually all of the U.N.’s emergency operations are “underfunded”.

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars for aid to Syria by the end of 2015.

“We need more support and more financial help,” said Dujarric. “But, most importantly, we need political solutions.”

But most conflicts have remained unresolved or stalemated primarily due to sharp divisions in the Security Council, the U.N.’s only political body armed with powers to resolve military conflicts.

Asked if the international community is doing enough, Scribner told IPS there is no silver bullet for dealing with these crises around the world because there are so many problems causing them: poverty, bad governance, proxy wars, geopolitical interests playing out; war economies being strengthened through the shipment of arms and weapons; ethnic tensions, etc.

The humanitarian system is not built for responding to the crises in the 21st century.

She said Oxfam is calling for three things: 1) More effective humanitarian response by providing funding early on and investing more in local leadership; 2) More emphasis on working towards political solutions and diplomatic action; and 3) Oxfam encourages the international community to use the sustainable development goals to lift more people out of poverty and address inequality that exists around the globe today.

Scribner said the combined wealth of the world’s richest 1 percent will overtake that of everyone else by next year given the current trend of rising inequality.

The conflicts in the world’s hot spots have also resulted in two adverse consequences: people caught in the crossfire are fleeing war-torn countries to safe havens in Europe while, at the same time, there is an increase in the number of killings of aid workers and U.N. staffers engaged in humanitarian work.

Over the weekend, hundreds of refugees and migrant workers from war-devastated Libya died in the high seas as a result of a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The estimated death toll is over 900.

On Monday, four staff members of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were reportedly killed in an attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Somalia, while four others were injured and remain in serious condition.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “We’re appalled at the loss of our colleagues in Garowe, Somalia and are very concerned for those injured. They truly were heroes doing great work in one of the world’s most dangerous locations.”

He said the United Nations has been clear that it will continue to operate in Somalia and “our work is needed there.”

“We support the work of our colleagues in these difficult circumstances,” he said.

At the same time, Richards told IPS, “We should not lose sight of a context in which U.N. staff and, in the case of local staff, their families, are increasingly targeted for their work.”

It is therefore important, he said, that the secretary-eneral and the General Assembly fully review the protection the U.N. provides to staff in locations where their lives are at risk, so that they may continue to provide much-needed assistance in such locations.

Oxfam’s Scribner told IPS attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years – from 90 violent attacks in 2001 to 308 incidents in 2011 – with the majority of attacks aimed at local aid workers. They often face more danger because they can get closer to the crisis to help others.

Because local aid workers are familiar with the landscape, speak the local language, and understand the local culture, and this also puts them more at risk, she said.

“That is why it is not a surprise that local aid workers make up nearly 80 percent of fatalities, on average, since 2001,” Scribner added.

Last year on World Humanitarian Day, the New York Times reported that the number of attacks on aid workers in 2013 set an annual record at 460, the most since the group began compiling its database, which goes back to 1997.

“These courageous men and women aren’t pulling out because they live in the very countries where they are trying to make a difference. And as such, they should be supported much more by the international community,” Scribner declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Tailings Ponds Pose a Threat to Chilean Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:39:50 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140244 The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home.

Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of Santiago, is in an area full of tailings dams, Henry Jurgens, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Relaves (Tailings), told Tierramérica.

He explained that pollution with heavy metals “was already a reality” before the recent thunderstorm and flooding, but that the catastrophe “made this reality visible and more severe.”

In early April, the organisation detected tailings pond spills when it took water and mud samples in different parts of the Atacama region. But the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) reported that the tailings impoundments that hold toxic waste are in stable condition.

The Atacama desert, the world’s driest, was the main natural area affected by the flooding caused by the Mar. 23-24 heavy rainfall, which dropped the equivalent of one-quarter of a normal year’s precipitation on the area.

Experts say the rain may have stirred up heavy metals lying quietly in abandoned ponds.

Tailings, the materials left over after valuable minerals are separated from ore, contain water, chemicals and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, zinc and mercury, deposited in open-air ponds or impoundments.

These toxic substances build up in the body and cause serious health problems.

Arsenic, for example, has no color, odor or taste, which makes it undetectable by people who consume it. Experts warn that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs or bladder.

The main source of wealth in this mining country is copper. In 2014 alone, this country of 17.5 million people produced 5.7 billion tons of copper, 31.2 percent of the world total.

But for each ton of fine copper produced, 100 tons of soil with toxic by-products must be removed and stored.

There are 449 identified tailings ponds in this country, according to official figures. But there are dozens of others that have not been “georeferenced,” another member of Relaves, Raimundo Gómez, complained to Tierramérica.

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“There is no real register of abandoned tailings ponds in the country,” said Gómez. “Sernageomin estimates that there are 90 of these toxic deposits in the Atacama region alone. That is really a lot.”

He also noted that “there is a great lack of information about the issue; communities do not know that they are living next to tailings ponds, and people are unaware of the danger that they pose to health and that they pollute the water.”

“We can see the profits left by mining. But we don’t see the negative effects, which we all end up paying in the end,” Gómez said. “It’s like when you go to a dinner and you talk about how delicious it was, but you don’t tell what you did in the bathroom afterwards.”

The earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 caused the collapse of an abandoned tailings pile that buried an entire family under tons of toxic sludge.

The victims, a couple and their two children, worked on the farm where Jurgens and his family lived for six years near the southern town of Pencahue, unaware that they were living next to a toxic, unstable tailings pile.

“It wasn’t till then that I found out what it was, and all the things that could happen,” he said.

“People are totally ignorant about this. They’re often drinking polluted water and aren’t warned by the relevant institutions….That’s just humiliating and terrible,” Jurgens said.

Although experts say the worst risk is posed by abandoned tailings dumps, the ones that are still in use can also be dangerous.

That is the case of Caimanes, a town of 1,000 located near the El Mauro tailings dam of the company Los Pelambres, the sixth-largest copper producer in Chile, which belongs to the Luksic’s, the richest family in the country.

El Mauro, which in the Diaguita indigenous language means the place where the water spouts, is located eight km upriver from Caimanes.

The seven km-long dam, with a wall 270 metres high, is the biggest chemical waste dump in Latin America.

The dump has hurt the local biodiversity and polluted the water used by the people of the town.

The main study on water pollution by tailings ponds, carried out in 2011 by Andrei Tchernitchin at the University of Chile, found high levels of heavy metals in a number of rivers.

“At the Caimanes bridge, the iron level was 50 percent higher than the limit and the manganese sample was nearly double the level permitted for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told Tierramérica.

He returned to take more samples for a second study, in February 2012. In a small pond, a few centimetres above a swamp, he found levels of manganese far above the internationally accepted limit.

“The limit is 100 micrograms of manganese per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent above the limit,” he said.

He warned that if this severe level of pollution continued, the effects on the health of the local population would be serious. “Long-term exposure to manganese can cause diseases of the central nervous system such as psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia,” Tchernitchin said.

On Mar. 6, a local court accepted a lawsuit brought by the Caimanes Defence Committee on Dec. 19, 2008 and ordered the tailings pond to be removed.

The mining company appealed, and the regional Appeals Court is to hand down a ruling shortly.

Jurgens and Gómez called for a law on tailings that would indicate how many impoundments exist in the country, how many have been abandoned, and what chemicals they contain.

“A strict law is needed, on one hand, and informed citizens on the other. We have neither of these,” Gómez argued.

“It is really paradoxical that we consider ourselves a mining country and always talk about how much copper we’re going to export, but no one is aware of the amount of waste we’re going to produce,” he said.

“We have to learn how to assess the negative aspects of mining and to raise awareness of that and of the large number of tailings ponds and waste that is literally dumped throughout the country,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Realising Unfinished Business of MDGs : A Call for Greater Action and Investment for Malariahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-realising-unfinished-business-of-mdgs-a-call-for-greater-action-and-investment-for-malaria/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:45:30 +0000 Fatoumata Nafo Traore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140233 Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré

By Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

Later this week, communities around the world will commemorate World Malaria Day for the last time in the context of the global development priorities set in 2000.

Aspiring for a world free from hunger, poverty and disease, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were endorsed by the largest gathering of world leaders in history.Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.

Most of those world leaders have since moved on, but the goals they determined galvanised the planet to work together toward a better future for humanity and spawned health and development partnerships which continue to this day.

These unique alliances have evolved over time to meet the changing environment, and, in the case of malaria control and elimination, succeeded exponentially where other development efforts have stalled.

Since 2000 and the dawn of the new millennium, over four million lives have been saved by mass distribution of insecticide treated nets, insecticide spraying of interiors, improved malaria treatments and rapid, on the spot, diagnosis of malaria. Over the past 15 years, malaria mortality has decreased by 47 percent worldwide and by 55 percent in Africa alone.

In fact, 64 countries have achieved the malaria-specific Millennium Development Goal – to have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015. This means less newborn, infant and maternal deaths, fewer days missed at school and work, more productive communities, stronger health systems and more vibrant economies.

But these gains are fragile and their impact unevenly distributed. As we shift gears – from the Millennium Development Goals to the broader Sustainable Development Goals – we must not forget the unfinished business of the MDGs, the unmet targets – the populations still at risk and the continuing unnecessary deaths, suffering and loss of livelihood caused by malaria.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) has come a long way in the last 15 years – but we still have some distance to go.

Universal coverage with insecticide treated nets, effective treatments, rapid diagnostics and indoor spraying has not yet been achieved. Too often, migrant workers, mobile communities and other remote populations do not yet receive adequate malaria services.

In Africa today, 10,000 women and between 75,000 and 200,000 infants are estimated to die annually, with many millions suffering worldwide, as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy. It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable in our society remain the least protected.

Greater investment in future generations, in the protection of mothers and their unborn babies from malaria, is a moral imperative. We can and must do better.

In this critical transition year, the RBM Partnership will launch its second generation global malaria action plan called “Action and Investment to defeat Malaria (AIM) 2016-2030: for a Malaria-Free World.”

It makes the global case for eliminating the scourge of malaria over the next 15 years and avoiding the resurgence of the disease, with its associated crippling economic cost and devastating suffering and death.

The AIM calls for heightened investment within the new Sustainable Development framework and emphasises a people-centred approach, which leaves no one behind. It also shows clearly how engaging all sectors of society will boost global efforts and generate the much needed human and financial resources to win the race against malaria.

With the drug and insecticide resistance eroding effective tools, malaria control and elimination efforts will need smart investments and increased international and domestic spending as endemic countries move from low to middle income status and shift their sights to ambitious elimination targets.

An investment in malaria control and elimination is an investment in the future, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best buys in global health. The tools are cost-effective and the return on investment high. If we can eliminate the disease in sub-Saharan Africa alone by 2030, the world stands to gain an estimated 270 billion dollars.

If we are to make malaria history we will need new tools – innovations that will help us realise our ambition towards a malaria-free world, particularly those that can accelerate elimination in the near future and tackle the challenges we face today, like drug and insecticide resistance.

We will also need transformative technologies – effective vaccines and rapid malaria tests that can be used in remote areas and can detect cases that have no visible symptoms.

Going forward, the malaria fight will need new focus: strengthening country ownership, empowering communities, enhancing data quality for decision making, engaging multiple sectors outside health and exploring ways to do things better at all levels, with maximum value for money.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership will be ready to adapt strategies and approaches, amplify political will and country readiness, so that together we can win the race against malaria.

Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.

Winning the fight against malaria means that families, communities, and countries will thrive as never before.

By working together we can put an end to this needless suffering and strengthen the potential of individuals, communities and countries to achieve our ultimate goal – a world free from malaria.

Note: World Malaria Day was instituted by WHO Member States during the 2007 World Health Assembly and is celebrated on 25 April each year to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria control and elimination. The theme for the 2013-2015 campaign is “Invest in the Future. Defeat malaria”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cutshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:28:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140208 Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Instead of Scaling up Funding for Education, Major Donors Are Cutting Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 03:11:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140210 A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Despite commitments by the international community to achieve universal primary education by 2015, funds for education have been decreasing over the past ten years, according to a report released Friday by the global advocacy campaign ‘A World at School’.

Figures from a Donor Scorecard show that nine of the top 10 donor governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, have been reducing their aid since 2010. Norway is the only major donor that showed a five-percent increase in education funding over the past four years.

The scorecard will be presented on the first day of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s spring meetings, scheduled to run from Apr. 17-19 in Washington DC, to highlight the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to target their funds towards nations with the most number of out-of-school children, and specifically towards hard to reach populations.

According to the report, “In 2011, the bank provided 20 percent — the smallest share — of its total aid to basic education to low-income countries. More than 70 percent of funding went to countries with less than 20 percent of the out-of-school population.

Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School, remarked that it is “unacceptable” that aid for basic education has fallen every year since 2010, which means that “just when leaders should have been stepping up to achieve the 2015 target, they were pulling back.”

According to the Donor Scorecard, while investments in health have risen by 58 percent, those in education have fallen by 19 percent.

The report comes in the wake of worldwide “attacks” on education in 2014 and 2015, with war, conflict and terrorism destroying schools and interrupting the education of thousands of school going kids in places like Kenya, Pakistan, Syria, the Central African Republic and Gaza. The kidnapping of students in Nigeria and South Sudan are also major causes for concern.

According to a report released recently by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 58 million children are out of schools, and 100 million children do not complete primary education.

The UNESCO document also says education is still under-financed, affecting the poorest children, as many governments are not prioritising education as part of their national budgets.

There is an annual financing gap of 22 billion dollars over the 2015-2030 period for achieving quality pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in lower- and middle-income countries, the report stated.

Campaigners with A world at School are calling for concrete aid strategies for basic education, which include the creation of a humanitarian fund for financing education in emergencies, and increasing aid initiatives for children in war-torn countries.

As Brown explained, “It is crucial that we reverse the decline in funding for education. The alternative is leaving 58 million children behind, particularly those hit hardest by conflict and emergencies, such as Syrian refugees and children out of school in countries affected by Ebola.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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