Inter Press Service » Aid Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 09 Oct 2015 06:09:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 United Arab Emirates and Cuba Forge Closer Ties Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:10:19 +0000 Patricia Grogg The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Oct 6 2015 (IPS)

Cuba and the United Arab Emirates agreed to strengthen diplomatic ties and bilateral cooperation during an official visit to this Caribbean island nation by the UAE minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

During his 24-hour stay, Al Nahyan met on Monday Oct. 5 with Cuban authorities, signed two agreements, and inaugurated his country’s embassy in Havana, which he said was a clear sign of the consolidation of the ties established by the two countries in March 2002.

“I am sure that the next few years will witness the prosperity of our ties,” he added during his official meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, with whom he signed an agreement on air services “between and beyond our territories” which will facilitate the expansion of opportunities for international air transport.

In the meeting, Rodríguez reaffirmed his government’s support for Arab peoples in their struggle to maintain their independence and territorial integrity.

According to official sources, the two foreign ministers concurred that the opening of the UAE embassy is an important step forward in bilateral ties and will permit closer follow-up of questions of mutual interest.

Al Nahyan also met with the first vice president of the councils of state and ministers, Miguel Díaz Canel. The two officials confirmed the good state of bilateral ties and the possibilities for cooperation on the economic, trade and financial fronts, Cuba’s prime-time TV newscast reported.

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, signed a credit agreement with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, to finance a solar energy farm that will generate 10 MW of electricity.

Al Nahyan first visited Havana on Oct. 1-2, 2009 in response to an official invitation from minister Rodríguez. On that occasion they signed two agreements, one on economic, trade and technical cooperation, and another between the two foreign ministries.

“We have great confidence in Cuba’s leaders and in our capacity to carry out these kinds of projects,” Al Nahyan told the local media on that occasion.

United Arab Emirates, a federation made up of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – established diplomatic relations with Cuba in March 2002, in an accord signed in Cairo.

The decision to open an embassy in the Cuban capital was reached in a June 2014 cabinet meeting presided over by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and prime minister, and the ruler of Dubai.

In late February 2015, Al Maktoum received the letters of credentials for the new ambassador of Cuba in the UAE, Enrique Enríquez, during a ceremony in the Al Mushrif Palace in the Emirati capital.

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Later, UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ahmed al Jarman and Enríquez discussed the state of bilateral relations and agreed to take immediate concrete steps to expand and strengthen ties in different areas.

Enríquez also met with Cubans living in Abu Dhabi with a view to bolstering relations between them and their home country. They agreed on periodic future gatherings.

In May 2014, the UAE and Cuba signed an open skies agreement to allow the airlines of both countries to operate in each other’s territories, as well as opening the door to new plans for flights between the two countries, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) reported.

The accord formed part of a strategy to boost trade with other countries, said Saif Mohammed al Suwaidi, director general of the GCAA, who headed a delegation of officials and representatives of national airlines during a two-day visit to Cuba.

The UAE signed similar agreements with other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, as part of its effort at closer relations with this region, which is of growing interest to the Gulf country.

Talks have also been announced between the UAE and Russia to build a giant airport in Cuba, which would serve as an international airport hub for Latin America, the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper reported in February.

The proposal is being discussed by the Russian government and the Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala, mandated to diversify the emirate’s economy.

In 2013 and 2014, UAE was named the world’s largest official development aid donor in a report released by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2013, the Gulf nation provided five billion dollars in ODA to other countries.

Last year, according to OECD data, the only Gulf country to have a Ministry of International Cooperation and Development spent 1.34 percent of their gross domestic product in development cooperation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Human Rights Activists Condemn Houthi Militia’s Atrocities Against Women in Yemen Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:04:16 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
Geneva, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — Arab and Yemeni human rights activist monitoring the civil war in Yemen say that women have been subjected to grave human right violations at the hands of the rebel Houthi militia and an allied insurgent group under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The human rights defenders were speaking at a landmark event organised by the Arab Federation for Human Rights (AFHR) on the sidelines of the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Dr. Mona Hejres, a member of the AFHR and head of “Together for Human Rights,” noted in her presentation at the event that that women were active participants in the revolution that drove Saleh out of power and that many had faced human rights crimes including killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and use of excessive force during that struggle. She said that today, in rebel-held areas, women suffer greatly at the hands of the Houthi militia and Saleh group, with widespread murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, deprivation of basic educational and health services, bombardment of residential districts, and other atrocities targeting them in the capital Sana’a, Aden and other cities.

She called upon the international community to live up to its responsibilities in protecting the Yemeni people, especially women, and to back the Arab Coalition’s operations seeking to protect the Yemeni people. She also appealed to the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions on Yemen and ensure protection, safety and security for its people, and particularly women.

During the event, a number of heads of Yemeni human rights associations and organisations pointed to a recent report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) as further evidence of the suffering caused by the Houthi militia and Saleh group in Yemen, particularly with regard to women.

Representatives of the AFHR and the YCMHRV also reiterated their rejection of the western countries’ request to establish a fact finding committee, which they said would dilute and ignore what they termed a human tragedy fomented by the rebel militias. Instead, they said, the international community should focus on prosecuting war criminals in the conflict, and to uphold its responsibilities to protect women during armed and military conflicts and disputes.

Maryam bin Tawq, Coordinator at the AFHR, spoke about the importance of establishing the international coalition “Operation Restoring Hope” aimed at protecting the Yemeni people from violations and crimes against humanity being carried out by al-Houthi group and the Saleh Militia. She said that the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Human Rights had found that the rebel militias had committed more than 4,500 human rights violations within the course of just one month of their control of Sana’a. (END)

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Opinion: Renewed Optimism or Higgledy-Piggledy Vision? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:05:51 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha
Philadelphia and Boston, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the whopping 169 targets were adopted in the largest ever United Nations Summit, attended by Prime Ministers, Presidents and the Pope, among other luminaries, in New York. These goals encompass world peace, the environment, gender equality, elimination of poverty and hunger and much, much more.

So far, they have evoked mixed reactions ranging from complete dismissal to grudging acceptance and overwhelming euphoria. Much of the scepticism is rooted in the ambitiousness of the SDGs relative to highly varying and, in most cases, limited capacities of developing countries to accomplish them. A comment in The Economist (19 September, 2015) derides them as “higgledy-piggledy, “bloated” and “unwieldy” but acknowledges a shift in development thinking.

While we commend the vision of SDGs for their comprehensiveness, emphasis on their inter-relatedness and inclusiveness, we have drawn upon recent evidence to develop the following key strategic elements in the spirit of enriching the policy debates.

A profound and lasting contribution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that they enhanced awareness of the multiple deprivations that afflicted large majorities of the people in many developing countries and policy challenges that confronted the governments, multilaterals and donors.

The SDGs have not just expanded their vision but also enriched it by focusing on sustainability. As Amartya Sen emphasised in the context of universal health care, it is not so much lack of affordability but a failure to recognise the capacity of poor countries (such as Rwanda), and states (such as Kerala in India) to mobilise and utilise resources effectively.

As global poverty fell, so did the gap between rural and urban poverty. Still, more than three-fourths of the extremely poor live in rural areas. It is clear, then, that global poverty remains a rural problem.

Overemphatic endorsement in recent studies of urbanisation as the main strategy for sustainable development neglects agriculture and the rural non-farm economy (RNFE) as key drivers of growth and reduction of inequality and poverty, as a vast majority of rural people still depend on them for their livelihoods.

Structural changes have occurred in both agriculture and the RNFE. Some features of changes in agriculture include its commercialisation, the emergence of high value food chains associated with demographic changes, urbanisation and growing affluence, and growth of agricultural exports.

Some have questioned the importance assigned to smallholder agriculture as a pathway out of poverty. Specifically, they contest the argument of the World Development Report 2008 that stimulating agricultural growth is “vital for stimulating growth in other parts of the economy,” and that smallholders are at the core of this strategy.

Pervasiveness of smallholder participation in high value food chains in different regions – especially in vegetables and fruits, milk and dairy products, and meat – is much higher than generally expected.

But there are barriers, too: lack of access to technology, credit markets, economies of scale in marketing, and ways of meeting stringent food quality standards. Contract farming is an option. Producers’ associations also contribute to overcoming some of these constraints. Central to this is inculcation of entrepreneurial skills among smallholders – especially young men and women – making sure that land, labour, credit and output markets function more efficiently.

While a majority of recent studies are emphatic about low labour productivity in agriculture impeding sustainable agricultural development, it is seldom acknowledged that these are manifestations of “underinvestment” in agriculture and market imperfections (e.g. dominance of local money lenders charging exorbitant interest rates, limited land rental markets, the sharp wedge between farm gate and wholesale prices for smallholders). Size neutrality of new agricultural technology implies an important role for extension services.

As part of the diversification of the rural economy, the RNFE has assumed greater importance in that it comprises a diverse set of activities ranging from pottery to trading and manufacturing with varied returns. Available evidence points to a large “overlap” between smallholders and those engaged in the RNFE using time disposition data. There is also some evidence that more than a small share of those classified as engaged in the RNFE live in rural areas but work in urban areas, raising questions about a sharp rural-urban dichotomy.

Other issues that deserve greater attention include labour tightening and higher wage rates, reduction of vulnerability of agriculture to weather shocks, volatility of prices, and forging of closer linkages with small and secondary towns. Central to expansion of the RNFE is how to make it more attractive for not just those who are engaged in both agriculture and the RNFE but also others who may move out of agriculture in pursuit of more rewarding opportunities elsewhere. Inculcation of managerial skills, more efficient credit and output markets, and improvements in rural infrastructure to enable easier access to output markets could stem the rural-urban migration tide and thereby the rapid growth of slums.

For poverty reduction, some forms of inequality matter more than others. Important ones include inequality in the distribution of assets, especially land, human capital, financial capital and access to public assets such as rural infrastructure. Broadly, a pro-poor agenda should include measures to moderate current income inequality while facilitating access to income-generating assets and the promotion of employment opportunities for the poor.

Much of the cross-country evidence relates to the benefits of financial depth rather than to broad financial inclusion. The Global Financial Development Report 2014 (World Bank, 2014) makes an emphatic case for the latter on the grounds it reflects a growing realization of its potentially transformative power to accelerate development gains through greater access to resources for investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks. Indeed, greater diversification of clientele through financial inclusion is likely to lead to a more resilient and more stable economy.

As more and more economies upgrade to middle-income and institutional quality improves, private capital inflows will become increasingly important. A stable macro-economic environment and incentives for public-private partnerships would promote growth and poverty reduction. Greater transparency of contracts and better enforcement are imperative. Not just national but local institutions matter a great deal in a sustainable rural transformation and poverty reduction.

Institutional responses to risks need to be strengthened by promoting community level institutions; widening and deepening of the reach of financial institutions; and providing social protection to the most vulnerable. When designed well and targeted effectively, these institutions and programmes help poor households build resilience against risks and severe hardships.

Local organizations (e.g water users’ associations, producers’ groups, women’s groups) not only help in equitable use of scarce natural resources in a community but also in facilitating access to credit and other markets.

Indeed, contrary to the deep pessimism, the SDGs reflect a renewed commitment to and optimism about bettering the “nasty, short and brutish lives” of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable in the near future.

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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‘Why is it Easier to Find Money to Destroy People than Protect Them?’ Asks U.N. Chief Mon, 28 Sep 2015 22:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen United States President Addresses General Assembly. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

United States President Addresses General Assembly. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a politically troubled world is suffering from a lack of empathy.

“One hundred million people require immediate humanitarian assistance,” he told delegates, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries.

The United Nations has asked for nearly 20 billion dollars to meet this year’s needs – six times the level of a decade ago. But demands continue to dwarf funding, although member states have been generous, he said.

Still, he lamented, the global humanitarian system is not broken; “it is broke.”

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria.”

In Yemen, 21 million people — 80 per cent of the population — need humanitarian assistance.

The U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded while the appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

Still, he pointed out, the world continues to squander trillions in wasteful military spending.

“Why is it easier to find the money to destroy people and planet than it is to protect them?” he asked delegates, who include five of the world’s major military powers: the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain.

Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, U.S. President Barack Obama covered a wide range of subjects in his address to the General Assembly.

And his appearance before the United Nations coincided with a breaking story about Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria joining a new coalition to fight the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) — even while a Western coalition has been fighting a losing battle against the terrorist group.

“I’ve said before and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them,” Obama warned.

“We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.”

But while military power is necessary, the U.S. President argued, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.

“Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully,” he said.

Obama said the United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.

“But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.”

Asked to react to Obama’s speech, Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America told IPS, President Obama showed renewed interest in engaging on a peace process for Syria – one that includes Iran and Russia.

“We’re hopeful that when he returns to Washington it is with the intention to remain personally engaged in a peace process. His words were welcome but they must be followed by action.”

He said a ‘fate worse than death’ is how some of the four million Syrian refugees, now registered in countries neighboring Syria, describe what it’s like to watch the towns and cities they left behind crumble under mortar attacks and barrel bombs.

“What is needed urgently is an inclusive peace process — pressure on the parties to end indiscriminate attacks and allow greater access to humanitarian assistance,” Offenheiser said.

“We welcome Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. will take more refugees, but remain concerned that the pace and scale of the U.S. response is nowhere near enough. We urge the United States to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year.”

The U.S. can and should do much more to provide refuge and safety to the millions of Syrians displaced by the conflict, he declared.

Speaking of the U.N.‘s track record over the last 70 years, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff listed some of the world body’s successes and failures.

She said the United Nations has broadened its initiatives, incorporating the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating issues related to the environment, poverty eradication, social development and access to quality services.

Matters such as urban challenges and gender and race issues have become a priority.

Still, she said the Organization has not had the same success, in addressing collective security, an issue which was present at the U.N.’s origins and which remains at the center of its concerns.

She said the proliferation of regional conflicts – some with high destructive potential – “as well as the expansion of terrorism, that kills men, women, and children, destroys our common heritage and displaces millions of people from their secular communities, show that the United Nations is before a great challenge.”

“One cannot be complacent with barbaric acts such as those perpetrated by the so called Islamic State and other associated groups.”

This situation explains, to a large extent, the refugee crisis that humankind is currently experiencing, Rousseff said.

A significant portion of the men, women and children who perilously venture the waters of the Mediterranean and painfully wander along the roads of Europe come from the Middle East and Northern Africa, from countries which had their state institutions de-structured by military action undertaken in contravention of international law, thereby opening space for terrorism, the Brazilian President noted.

The writer can be contacted at

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Report Condemns Atrocities of Houthi Rebels in Yemen Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:49:06 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – A new report from a human rights group operating in Yemen says that human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels, with more than 3,000 people murdered by the insurgent Houthi militia and its allies in Yemen.

The report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV), prepared from
reports by the organisation’s field monitors in Yemen, outlines a series of atrocities committed over the
past year in Sana’a, the capital, Aden, Taiz, Lahej, Hodiedah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar and Shabwa,
governorates (see full report in report.

The report tied the Houthi militia and an allied group operating under the command of former Yemeni
president Ali Abdullah Saleh with unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government that has
resulted in human rights violations that have afflicted men, women, children, property and the

The findings show that between September 2014 and August 2015, 3,074 people were murdered, about
20 percent of whom were women and children, and 7,347 civilians were wounded due to random
shelling, at least 25 percent of whom were women and children. A total of 5,894 people were arbitrarily
detained during the monitoring period – 4,640 of them were released and 1,254 people remain in

The report also focuses on arbitrary detention, forcible disappearances and hostage taking violations,
which the monitors said have been carried out regularly by the rebel militia against politicians,
journalists, and human rights and political activists. It said detainees are frequently mistreated and
deprived of basic needs such as food, water and proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitors also reported
that some detainees are used as human shields at military sites that have been targeted by the Coalition

“This is a clear violation of both national and international legislation,” said the report. “The de facto
forces, the Houthis, failed to observe their commitment towards human rights and humanitarian law,
being the power in control that practices the state’s functions. Rather, the Houthis-Saleh showed total
recklessness towards human rights and human suffering.”

The report concludes with recommendations, calling on the Houthi-Saleh militia, Yemeni government
and the international community to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It also calls on
the international community to support the newly established National Commission to investigate
alleged human rights Violations with all needed technical assistance. (END)

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U.N.’s New Development Goals Need Funds, Political Commitment for Success Mon, 28 Sep 2015 15:54:57 +0000 Thalif Deen sdgs_25_27_red

By Thalif Deen

The U.N.’s much-ballyhooed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), unanimously adopted by over 150 world leaders at a three-day summit meeting, which concluded Sep. 27, has been touted as the biggest single contribution to humanity since the invention of sliced bread.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Summit, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the 17 SDGs as an integral part of a post-2015 development agenda to end poverty in all its forms.

“The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation. We need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our guide. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” said Ban.

But what does it really take to ensure the SDGs are implemented over the next 15 years so that the world will witness a radical transformation of global society, including the elimination of poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, spreading diseases and environmental degradation — all by the year 2030.

Political will? Increased domestic resources and official development assistance (ODA)? A rise in private sector investments? Or all of it?

Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, one of the co-facilitators of the SDGs inter-governmental consultative process, told reporters last month the implementation of the agenda could cost a staggering 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: “The new Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious on paper – and they could be historic in their impact. They seek to go beyond band-aid solutions by setting out to eradicate – not just reduce – extreme poverty and hunger in every country.”

“The key is to welcome the richest people back in touch with the rest of society, rather than allowing them to exist on the margins of privilege,” she added.

Leida Rijnhout, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at the European Environmental Bureau, (in New York) said the 17 goals have the potential to push for higher ambitions and more coherence in policymaking, although the goal of ‘sustained economic growth’ could undermine the others.

“It is clear that the Earth’s carrying capacity is not increasing and that some countries need to substantially decrease their resource use to achieve more equitable sharing of resources and to allow other countries to develop and meet basic needs.”

“We are massively over-consuming in Europe at the expense of the climate and the development of poorer countries – a trend that is causing increasing conflicts over ever scarcer resources.”

The European Commission, she said, has the perfect chance when it reviews the Europe 2020 Strategy and the EU Sustainable Development Strategy to come up soon with an action plan for the implementation of the SDGs that shows it has understood the goals and the need to change track.
Asked if SDGs are realistic and implementable over the next 15 years, Zubair Sayed, Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS the SDGs are much wider in scope than the MDGs and are also universal in scope which means they apply to both developed and developing countries.

There are two issues, however, with regard to their implementation, he pointed out.

“Do states have the means and more importantly, do they have the will to implement them,” he asked.

What will be common in all contexts is that their success will depend on the political will of governments to take them seriously, to include transformative targets in their national development plans, to put the necessary resources behind them and to include citizens and civil society in all aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring, he noted.

“It’s also important that relevant indicators are identified by the international community to underpin the targets.”

Asked what is most needed through 2030, Sayed told IPS the success of the SDG’s will depend on the extent to which decision makers take them seriously and commit to their implementation through the setting of transformative national targets and committing financial resources to achieve them, the full and meaningful involvement of citizens in setting targets, reporting, and monitoring progress, and the inclusion of civil society as an equal partner in multilateral forums and processes.

The mobilisation of public opinion to ensure meaningful implementation of the goals by leaders will also be critical, he added.

Yolanda Kakabadse, President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International, said “most importantly in the coming months, countries need to figure out how they’re going to contribute to achieving these goals and set benchmarks and indicators so they can report on their efforts.”

“We’re in the race and can finally see the finish line – but we need some runners at the starting line if we’re going to make this happen in 15 years.”

Every country is required to develop national indicators and programmes of implementation through individual development plans, she pointed out.

In March, countries will crucially agree a set of indicators that will allow the UN to report annually on global progress in coming years.

“The indicator question will be challenging, but if countries can unite to solve the financial crisis, they can figure this out. The crucial part will be working together and being as transparent with data as possible,” said Kakabadse.

Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of World Resources Institute said the SDGs are a remarkable achievement that set a bold new agenda for international development.

Reflecting profound changes in the world, the new SDGs apply to all countries and importantly put environmental sustainability at their core.

“The SDGs recognize that we cannot eradicate extreme poverty and ensure lasting economic growth without also caring for the planet,” he noted.

“Fortunately, there are a growing number of examples where poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. This includes creating compact cities that focus on people, restoring degraded land, expanding access to low-carbon energy, and many more.

“Of course, it’s not enough to have good goals. Now, it’s up to governments – and others in the private sector, international organizations, and civil society – to follow through on this vision. By setting smart policies, encouraging sustainable investment, and measuring progress, countries can put us on a path to achieve these goals.

“If successful, the SDGs will usher in a radical shift in development. We can move away from today’s imbalanced approach to one that benefits all people and protects the planet at the same time.

Adriano Campolina, chief executive at ActionAid, told IPS the SDGs are a step forward as they identify the causes of poverty, “but unless we change the rules that govern the global system, the same players will keep winning.”

“We need to build a more just future for all people and the planet where it’s no longer just money that talks and the gaps in society are narrower.”

“We need to make sure that people living in poverty around the world benefit from these new development goals. Massive corporate investments alone will not guarantee a reduction in poverty and inequality. Governments must change the rules of the game and stop looking to the corporate sector for all the answers. We urgently need to address inequality if these new development goals are to stand a chance of succeeding in the next 15 years.”

The SDGs, proposed by an Open Working Group comprising all 193 U.N.member states, are the result of a three-year-long transparent, participatory process inclusive of all stakeholders and people’s voices.

The 17 SDGs and 169 targets of the new agenda will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators. The global indicator framework, to be developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, will be agreed on by the UN Statistical Commission by March 2016.

The writer can be contacted at

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UAE Government Stresses its Abiding Support for Syrian Refugees Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:31:22 +0000 Omar Salim By Omar Salim
ABU DHABI, Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

In response to suggestions that the Gulf states are doing littleor nothing to help Syrians fleeing their civil war, the Government of the United Arab Emirates has announced that it has take a broad range of supportive actions to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian population and to care for Syrian refugees in Syria and abroad, reports WAM.

Calling the Syrian refugee crisis a political and security crisis, a tragedy of enormous proportions and a key priority for his government, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, noted that the UAE Government has welcomed and extended residency permits to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, from all segments of society and various religious sects, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

This has brought the number of Syrian residents in the UAE to almost a quarter million, he said.

In addition, the minister noted, the UAE Government has during this time allowed thousands more Syrian nationals with expired visas or travel documents to adjust their status, enabling them to remain in the UAE.

Government figures show that the number of new and registered Syrian students enrolled in UAE schools since the beginning of the crisis has surpassed 17,000, while more than 6,000 Syrian nationals have established businesses in the country, indications that, according to the minister, “Syrian families are living a natural and normal life in the UAE’s secure and welcoming environment.”

The UAE government has also pointed out that it is among the leading financial contributors to efforts to help the Syrian people during the civil war. Thus far, the UAE has provided about 1.1 billion dollars, about half of that in humanitarian aid that has directly benefited Syrian refugees and another 420 million dollars to combat Daesh terrorism in Syria and Iraq and to provide humanitarian support and relief to displaced people.

These efforts include the UAE-funded Mrajib Al Fhood camp in Jordan, which provides high-quality care, shelter and education for 6,437 Syrian refugees and has been expanded to accommodate up to 10,000. Additionally, the UAE-Jordanian field hospital in Al Mafraq offers a wide range of professional medical services to Syrian refugees and has provided nearly a half-million treatments.

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Is Good Governance Good For Development? Mon, 14 Sep 2015 15:43:23 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 14 2015 (IPS)

Many well-meaning people who would like better governance have been misled into insisting on so-called ‘good governance’ reforms, with the expectation that this would lead to development.

There is no clear or systematic evidence that good governance – as an approach — is necessary for development. However, the evidence favours the converse: governance improves with development.

No one is advocating bad governance, or corruption, or however one wants to define whatever good governance is meant to address. Nor is anyone saying that governance does not matter.

Clearly, no one is opposed to good governance in the sense of governance that is good. On the contrary, everyone wants to improve governance in many aspects of human affairs.

When the policy prescriptions of the conventional wisdom of the last three decades did not result in sustained development, good governance reforms became the great hope. After all, the statistical correlation between good governance indicators and economic performance has long fuelled hope that good governance would bring development.

Thus, good governance became a convenient way to explain away the failure of the development economics orthodoxy of the last two decades of the 20th century — when Latin America lost more than a decade, and Sub-Saharan Africa a quarter century due to enforcement of the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’!

Market liberalization was supposed to be the necessary complement of freedom and democracy — following the late Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, both Nobel laureates in economics with considerable name recognition.

Thus, good governance was touted as the great miracle cure for development failure and corruption, usually simplistically attributed to big government. After all, who favours corruption, red-tape or ineptitude?

These were easy targets, and when conventional analysis could not explain development failures and corruption, bureaucracy, bad governance and governance failure could conveniently be blamed.

But unfortunately, all good things in life do not necessarily go together. And while most people want democracy, or want to see an end to corruption, development does not necessarily follow. And that is the problem.

Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations have been created by presuming that good governance reforms are necessary for development. When good governance reforms are imposed as aid conditionalities, recipient developing country governments often end up mimicking donor expectations.

And when you have well over a hundred good governance indicators, reforms become so wide-ranging, impossible to achieve, beyond the means of most developing countries and, worst of all, a major distraction from needed development efforts.

To make things worse, many ostensible good governance solutions favour particular vested interests, with grossly unfair consequences. Also, many good governance reforms have had unexpected, if not perverse outcomes, sometimes worsening governance problems, e.g. when decentralization and devolution have led to powerful local political patrons — which some call ‘cacique’ democracy.

So, let us improve governance by all means. But let us not overload the governance reform agenda unnecessarily. As Harvard Professor Merilee Grindle has put it, we need ‘good enough’ governance — meaning we must prioritize, and strategically.

There is no systematic evidence that the much touted good governance reforms are necessary for development. We cannot presume that the advocates of good governance have been always right about how best to improve governance.

Take the claims about the ostensible necessity to strengthen property rights.

In reality, the tragedy of the commons is not inevitable, and strengthened property rights are not the only solution. The late, much maligned Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom showed that human societies have long coped with ecological, resource and other constraints with a variety of arrangements other than by strengthening property rights.

As governance improves with development, let us prioritize development-enhancing governance reforms, or developmental governance. A pragmatic approach to improving governance cannot be dogmatic, pre-conceived, and one-size-fits-all, where one has the solution even before one knows the problem.

Identify the major constraints, analyse, and then address them, perhaps sequentially. Draw from relevant experiences, lessons learned. Do not presume there are best practices regardless of context. We need to be humble, not presumptuous, and that is never easy for those of us deemed experts.

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UAE Continues Relief to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Sat, 12 Sep 2015 21:19:21 +0000 Emirates News Agency

Att.Editors: The following item is from the Emirates News Agency (WAM)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 12 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – Under the directives of the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), efforts are underway to provide relief to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. A strategic humanitarian plan has been put in place by the country which includes shelter to refugees closer to Lebanon in order to facilitate their return home when the crisis is over.

According to reports issued by the UAE news agency WAM, since the crisis began in 2011, the Gulf countries received more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. Earlier 140,000 refugees were accomodated in the region.

The UAE was one of the first countries to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, providing more than USD530 million in direct aid, mainly through the Syria Recovery Trust Fund.

Since January 2015, the UAE provided an additional USD44 million as part of a new aid commitment of USD100 million, reported WAM.

The UAE is also working towards peace and stability in Syria, by supporting the Global Coalition Against Daesh and as a co-leader for the Coalition Working Groups on Stabilisation and Strategic Communications in the region.

Commenting on the UAE humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees, Hamad Saeed Sultan Al Shamsi, Ambassador of UAE to Lebanon, said “The UAE government, its humanitarian institutions and organisations through direct initiatives and its offices have continued their support for the displaced Syrians in Lebanon.”

Ambassador Al Shamsi added that the UAE Embassy in Lebanon, in cooperation with the UN and other international organisations including Dar Al Fatwa, Orphanage House and municipalities, have provided humanitarian and relief assistance to the Syrian refugees with included medical treatment, date food packages, drinking water and food supplements for children, blankets and mattresses, and, during Iftar and Eid ul Fitr, distributed clothes, gifts and sacrificial meat. He also pointed out that the UAE Embassy in Beirut purchases goods from the local markets to support the Lebanese economy.

Millions of Syrians fled their homes as the conflict in their country escalated. By the summer of 2014, more than 11 million people — nearly half the population of Syria — had either been internally displaced or fled the country altogether. More than four million sought refuge in neighbouring countries, where they were sheltered in refugee camps, such as the UAE-funded Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, that is home now to more than 4,000 Syrian refugees, and other refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. (WAM) (END/2015)

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Africa Sees U.N. Climate Conference as “Court Case” for the Continent Thu, 10 Sep 2015 15:57:08 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu Section of a geothermal power plant in Kenya. Some African countries have invested heavily in green energy, showcasing what  Africa can do, given resources. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Section of a geothermal power plant in Kenya. Some African countries have invested heavily in green energy, showcasing what Africa can do, given resources. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
DAR ES SALAAM, Sep 10 2015 (IPS)

As the clock ticks towards the United Nations climate change conference (COP21) in Paris in December, African experts, policy-makers and civil society groups plan to come to the negotiation table prepared for a legal approach to avoid mistakes made during formulation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the premise that global warming exists and that man-made CO2 emissions have caused it.

“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a legal instrument, and therefore we need legal experts to argue the case for Africa, using available evidence instead of having only scientists and politicians at the negotiation table,” according to Dr Oliver C. Ruppel, a professor of law at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.“We must stop complaining and look at how much we have done ourselves with and without support, look at our success stories and build a case of what Africa can do instead of shouting for resources” – John Salehe, Africa Wildlife Foundation

“It is a court case for Africa, and Africa must argue it out, and not keep looking for scientific evidence,” Ruppel told an Africa Climate Talks (ACT!) forum on ‘Democratising Global Climate Change Governance and Building an African Consensus toward COP 21 and Beyond’ last week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The forum, which was organised by the Climate for Development in Africa (ClimDev-Africa) Programme, was part of the preparatory process for Africa’s contribution to COP 21 in Paris.

Africa has always based its climate argument on geopolitics and science. However, in Paris, experts say that Africa will have to include a good number of lawyers who will table existing evidence of what climate change has caused, what Africans have done about it, and what they can do given appropriate financial and technological support.

“We must stop complaining and look at how much we have done ourselves with and without support, look at our success stories and build a case of what Africa can do instead of shouting for resources,” said John Salehe of the Africa Wildlife Foundation. “We need to show evidence of what we can do, then approach the negotiations positively,” added Ruppel.

Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, Vice-President of Tanzania, observed that Africa has suffered under the Kyoto Protocol because there were unforeseen gaps. “Since we are negotiating a new agreement, nobody in Africa will benefit if we make the same mistakes that were made in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations,” he told the forum.

According to experts, the Kyoto Protocol was formulated in a way that was designed to address mitigation of climate change, rather than adaptation to its impacts.

“The agreement also failed to recognise some countries which have since emerged as major greenhouse gas emitters, a fact that has complicated implementation of the agreement’s mechanisms,” observed Mithika Mwenda, executive secretary of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

He also noted that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the protocol was based on markets, and therefore failed completely to address climate change in countries with negligible emissions.

Such gaps must be sealed in Paris and a new agreement reached or else the world’s sustainable development path will be jeopardised, warned Bilal.

Nevertheless, the Tanzanian Vice-President recognised that sometimes Africa expects too much from the developed countries. “We need to change and change has to start from within,” he said.” The vision has to be crafted from within and we have to go to Paris to champion a narrative and cause that is consistent with our own development aspirations.”

So far, in response to changing climatic conditions, African countries have proactively put in place climate change policies with tools geared towards mitigating and adapting to their impacts. Some have invested heavily in clean energy, some have adopted climate-smart farming techniques, and others have invested in tree growing.

“Africa has lots of capacities but they differ,” said John Kioli, chairman of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group. “We need to take stock of what we have, and negotiate for enhancement of what we do not have.”

Dr Joseph Mutemi, a climate scientist and executive director of the Africa Centre for Technology Studies, noted that the playing field has always been tilted to support pro-mitigation. “As Africa, we need to be strategic enough to understand where mitigation supports adaptation and take advantage of it,” he said.” We should start from the known, then venture into the unknown.”

ACT! seeks to crystallise a conceptual framework umbrella for Africa’s role in the global governance of climate change, and to position climate change as both a constraint on Africa’s development potential as well as an opportunity for structural transformation of African economies.

The objective is to mobilise the engagement of Africans from all spheres of life in the run-up to the Paris negotiations, increase public awareness of climate change and the roles people can play in the global governance of climate change, and elicit critical reflection on the UNFCCC process among Africans.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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G20 Finance Ministers Committed to Sustainable Development Wed, 09 Sep 2015 22:32:33 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran The Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the G20. Credit: TCMB/cc by 2.0

The Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the G20. Credit: TCMB/cc by 2.0

By Jaya Ramachandran
BERLIN, Sep 9 2015 (IPS)

Finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 major economies, accounting for 66 percent of world population, have pledged to “promote an enabling global economic environment for developing countries as they pursue their sustainable development agendas”.

In this context, they are looking forward to “a successful outcome” of the U.N. Summit in New York for the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The summit will be held from Sep. 25 to 27 in New York as a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly of the world body.

The G20, meeting in Turkey’s capital Ankara on Sep. 4-5, reviewed ongoing economic developments, their respective growth prospects, and recent volatility in financial markets and its underlying economic conditions. They welcomed “the strengthening economic activity in some economies” but said that global growth was falling short of their expectations.

To remedy the situation, they vowed to take decisive action to keep the economic recovery on track and expressed confidence that the global economic recovery would gain speed. With this in view, they would continue to monitor developments, assess spillovers and address emerging risks as needed to foster confidence and financial stability.

The G20 welcomed “the positive outcomes of the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development (FFD)”. In support of these, they aim to scale up their technical assistance efforts to help developing countries build necessary institutional capacity, particularly in the areas specified in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

The agreement was reached by the 193 U.N. Member States attending the Conference, following negotiations under the leadership of Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “This agreement is a critical step forward in building a sustainable future for all. It provides a global framework for financing sustainable development.”

He added, “The results here in Addis Ababa give us the foundation of a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development that will leave no one behind.”

The G20 includes 19 individual countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – along with the European Union (EU). The EU is represented by the European Commission and by the European Central Bank.

The Group was founded in 1999 with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability.

It seeks to address issues that go beyond the responsibilities of any one organisation. Collectively, the G20 economies account for around 85 percent of the gross world product (GWP), 80 percent of world trade (or, if excluding EU intra-trade, 75 percent), and two-thirds of the world population. The G20 heads of government or heads of state have periodically conferred at summits since their initial meeting in 2008.

The G20 are responsible for 84 percent fossil fuel emissions worldwide. To support the climate change agenda of 2015, they welcomed the Climate Finance Study Group (CFSG) report, took note of the inventory on climate funds developed by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), and the toolkit developed by the OECD and the GEF (Global Environment Facility) to enhance access to adaptation finance by the low income and developing countries, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

While recognising developed countries’ ongoing efforts, they called on them to continue to scale up climate finance in line with their commitments.

“We are working together to reach a positive and balanced outcome at the 21st Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 21). Based on the outcomes and towards the objectives of the COP21, CFSG will continue its work in 2016 by following the principles, provisions and objectives of the UNFCCC,” they added.

UNFCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that emerged from the Earth Summit in June 1992 in Rio, Brazil, which is currently the only international climate policy treaty with broad legitimacy, due in part to its virtually universal membership.

The CFSG was established by Finance Ministers, in April 2012, and was welcomed by leaders in the Los Cabos Summit, in Jun 2012, with a view “to consider ways to effectively mobilize resources taking into account the objectives, provisions and  principles of the UNFCCC”.

In November 2012, Finance Ministers agreed to “continue working towards building a better understanding of the underlying issues among G20 members taking into account the objectives, provisions and principles of the UNFCCC”, and also recognised that the “UNFCCC is the forum for climate change negotiations and decision making at the international level”.

Following the mandate of the group, and building on the CFSG 2013 Report, the Group identified four areas to be studied in 2014, namely: (a) Financing for adaptation; (b) Alternative sources and approaches to enhance climate finance and its effectiveness; (c) Enabling environments, in developing and developed countries, to facilitate the mobilization and effective deployment of climate finance; (d) Examining the role of relevant financial institutions and MDBs in mobilizing climate finance.

This report aims to present to the G20 Finance Ministers and Leaders a range of non-exhaustive policy options (“toolbox”) for voluntary consideration, related to these four areas, and to suggest further work on other important issues on climate finance.

The G20 said they were “deeply disappointed” with the continued delay in progressing the 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) Quota and Governance Reforms. In their view, their earliest implementation is essential for the credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness of the Fund and “remains our highest priority”.

As part of continuing efforts to promote market confidence and business integrity, G20 Finance Ministers also endorsed a new set of G20/OECD corporate governance principles.

The G20/OECD Principles of Corporate Governance provide recommendations for national policymakers on shareholder rights, executive remuneration, financial disclosure, the behaviour of institutional investors and how stock markets should function.

Sound corporate governance is seen as an essential element for promoting capital-market based financing and unlocking investment, which are keys to boosting long-term economic growth.

“In today’s global and highly interconnected world of business and finance, creating trust is something that we need to do together,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said during a presentation of the new Principles with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cevdet Yilmaz,‎ who chaired the G20 finance ministers meeting.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: From Inequality to Inclusion Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:57:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in economic inequality, thanks primarily to growing recognition of some of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences in the wake of Western economic stagnation.

The unexpectedly enthusiastic reception for last year’s publication of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” underscores this sea change.New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside.

Piketty has correctly renewed attention to the connections between the functional and household/individual distributions of income as well as to wealth inequality. Clearly, the distribution of wealth (capital, real property) is the major determinant of the functional distribution of income.

And by textbook economics’ definition, profit maximisation involves capturing economic rents of some kind – from finance, monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs), ‘competitive advantage’, producer surplus, etc., presumably thanks to successful rent-seeking, by influencing legislation, regulation, public policy, public opinion and consumer preferences.

As is understandable and the norm, Piketty’s focus is on inequality at the national level, rather than at the global level. But Branko Milanovic and others have shown that about two-thirds of overall world interpersonal or inter-household inequality is accounted for by inter-country inequality, with the remaining third due to what may be termed class and other intra-national inequalities.

International inequality

There are many competing explanations for international inequalities. Historical differences in capital accumulation, including public investments, and productivity are commonly invoked to explain different economic capacities, capabilities and incomes.

But frequently unsustainable foreign investments also lead to significant net outflows, greatly diminishing the net benefits from additional economic capacities. Financial flows to the settler colonies from the late 19th century were exceptional in this regard. Generally, a small share of foreign direct investment actually enhances economic capacities, instead mainly contributing to acquisitions and mergers.

Financial globalisation in recent decades, especially capital market flows, have not ensured sustained net flows from capital-rich to capital-poor economies, but has instead worsened financial volatility and instability, increasing the frequency of crises with traumatic effects for the real economy, and growth sustainability.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that international trade lifts all boats, it has generally favoured the richer countries at the expense of their poorer counterparts. For well over a century, except during some notable periods and some rare minerals more recently, the prices of primary commodities have declined against manufactures.

This has been especially true of tropical agriculture compared to temperate products, as productivity gains have accrued to consumers more than to producers. In recent decades, cut-throat competition has meant a similar fate for developing country manufactured exports compared to the large marketing margins of manufactures from developed economies.

Social protection

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the call to address inequality as a crucial challenge for development has emerged as an issue to be addressed in the post-2015 development framework.

Inequality gradually came back into development debates after the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF focused flagship publications on this issue a decade ago, with the publication of the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalization and Inequality.

The ongoing effects of the global financial and economic crisis since 2008 have reinforced recognition that inequality has been slowing not only human development, but also economic recovery. But this has not led to any fundamental change in economic policy thinking or a major commitment to redress inequality at the global or even national level, except perhaps by improving taxation.

Instead, it has led to a consensus to establish a global social protection floor, recognising not only that poverty and hunger in the world will not be eliminated by more of the same economic policies, especially with the currently dim prospects for sustained economic and employment recovery and growth.

Historically, the welfare state emerged in developed countries to address deprivations in the formal economy – retirees, retrenched workers, military veterans and mothers among others. Social protection and other fiscal interventions do not fundamentally challenge wealth or income distribution, and current thinking is mindful of the potentially unsustainable burden of a welfare state.

New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside. The new interventions thus seek to accelerate the transition from protection to production, for greater resilience and self-reliance.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Rich Gulf Nations Tight-Lipped on Growing Refugee Crisis Tue, 08 Sep 2015 14:39:54 +0000 Thalif Deen A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

By Thalif Deen

As Western and Central European nations seem overwhelmed by the growing refugee crisis – triggered mostly by the inflow of hundreds and thousands of displaced people largely from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq – one lingering question remains unanswered: why aren’t some of the rich Arab Gulf nations reaching out to help these hapless refugees?

The U.N. Committee on the Protection of Migrant Workers, the lead United Nations body dealing with issues relating to migrants, says millions of people have been forced to migrate from their homeland in search of safe havens abroad due to the on-going war in Syria.“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” -- Joseph Chamie

“While neighbouring States have opened their borders to millions of Syrian migrants, other countries, especially in Europe and elsewhere, notably the Gulf States, should do more to address one of the most tragic mass displacements of people since World War II,” says the Committee.

Joseph Chamie, an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS some neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have accepted very large numbers of refugees (according to U.N. figures, over 3.5 million people).

However, other nearby countries, notably Israel and the Arab Persian Gulf countries, have not been willing to accept the current refugees, he said.

The primary reason for the non-acceptance, he pointed out, is apparently the refugees are viewed as politically destabilising.

“The Gulf countries have admitted large numbers of South Asians and North Africans who are not considered immigrants, but temporary foreign workers who are expected to return to their homes. Also, Israel has accepted refugees in the past, but virtually all have been Jewish,” said Chamie, who has worked at the U.N. on population and migration issues for more than a quarter century and was also a former director of research at the Center for Migration Studies in New York and editor of the International Migration Review.

The Gulf nations which have virtually ignored the refugee crisis include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

However, in a statement issued Tuesday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Kuwait, under the leadership of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has hosted three annual pledging conferences since 2013.

As a result, billions of dollars have been raised in order to support the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, with the participation of 78 member states and 38 humanitarian organisations.

In 2015 alone, donors at the Kuwait 3 conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars, IOM said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared that Israel is a “very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth”, but pointed out Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa.

“We have already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives. We must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism,” he said.

With about eight million people, Israel has been described as a country founded mostly by refugees. But it is now building a new fence, about 18 miles long, along its border with Jordan to ward off “illegal migration and hostile infiltrations.”

“We must control our borders, against both illegal immigrants and terrorism,” Netanyahu said after a Cabinet meeting last week.

His statement drew strong criticism from Isaac Herzog, head of the main opposition Zionist Union party, who recounted the history of the Jewish people seeking safe haven from persecution: “Our people experienced first-hand the silence of the world. You have forgotten what it is to be Jews: Refugees. Persecuted.”

“The prime minister of the Jewish people would not shut his heart and the gates when people are fleeing for their lives, with babies in their arms, from persecutors,” said Herzog.

In a statement released Monday the U.N. Committee said Syrian migrants, pushed to take extreme action in search of secure and decent lives for their families, are literally putting their lives at risk to reach Europe.

“Hundreds of men, women and children have died while trying to reach safe shores. This is unconscionable in the view of the Committee.”

“We are once again shocked and dismayed at the appalling loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea”, Committee Chair Francisco Carrion Mena said following the latest drowning of Syrian migrants off the coast of Turkey last week – even as the Committee was meeting in Geneva.

Chamie told IPS It should come as no surprise that people are migrating. Given the current state of the world, the question should be: “Why aren’t more people migrating?”

In addition to globalisation, communication technologies and social media, powerful push/pull forces are operating to produce the current migration flows: poverty, violence, corruption, unemployment, repression and rapid population growth on the one side versus wealth, jobs, safety, social services, freedom and population decline on the other, he added.

While everyone has the right to leave their country, Chamie said, they do not have the right to enter another country. This paradox is the “Catch-22” that the growing numbers of migrants and destination nations are confronting.

The supply of potential migrants, who are free to leave their homelands, simply greatly exceeds the demand for migrants, which is set by the receiving countries. If people cannot enter a country as legal migrants, then many are choosing to enter illegally or overstay their legal visit, he noted.

“Today many migrants are indeed refugees as they are coming from worn-torn countries. And there are large numbers who are not strictly refugees, but are seeking improved economic opportunities and more secure living conditions for themselves and their families.”

He said many are wondering what will be the consequence of the current migration flows. These migratory flows are not going to stop any time soon and with them will come significant demographic, social, economic, political and cultural changes.

“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” Chamie said.

And for the international community the key question is how to effectively address the root causes of the recent migration surges. In the recent past, the receiving countries have largely been unwilling to address these matters at the global level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Island Mon, 07 Sep 2015 20:29:48 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Women from the community of Balgüe working with waste materials donated to the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

By José Adán Silva
ALTAGRACIA, Nicaragua, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.

It all began in 2007. María del Rosario Gutiérrez remembers her initial interest was piqued when she saw people who scavenged for waste in Managua’s garbage dumps fighting over the contents of bags full of plastic bottles, glass and metal.

How much could garbage be worth for people to actually hurt each other over it? she wondered. She was living in extreme poverty, raising her two children on her own with what she grew on a small piece of communal land in the municipality of Altagracia, and the little she earned doing casual work.

Gutiérrez talked to a neighbour, who told her that in Moyogalpa, the other town on the island, there was an office that bought scrap metal, glass and plastic bottles.

The two women checked around and found in their community a person who bought waste material from local hotels, washed it and sold it to Managua for recycling.

So Gutiérrez, who is now 30 years old, got involved in her new activity: every day she walked long distances with a bag over her shoulder, picking up recyclable waste around the island.

Her neighbour and other poor, unemployed women started to go with her. Then they began to go out on bicycles to pick up garbage along the roads tossed out by tourists, selling the materials to a middleman.

“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on our tables. And since we didn’t have jobs, it didn’t matter to us how much time it took, although the work was really exhausting at first,” Gutiérrez told IPS.

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

María del Rosario Gutiérrez (centre), with her daughter María and another member of the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia, Francis Socorro Hernández, rest after a day collecting and processing garbage on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Women filling enormous bags with scraps of trash have now become a common sight along the streets on the island.

Seeds of change

Miriam Potoy, with the Fundación entre Volcanes, said her non-governmental organisation decided to support women who were scavenging for a living, starting with a group in Moyogalpa.

“We initially helped them with safety and hygiene equipment, then with training on waste handling and treatment and the diversified use of garbage, so they could sell it as well as learn how to make crafts using the materials collected, to sell them to tourists and earn an extra income,” she told IPS.

Impressed by the women’s efforts, other institutions decided to support them as well.

The Altagracia city government gave them a place to collect, classify and sort the waste, tourism businesses that previously separated their garbage to sell recyclable materials decided to donate them to the women, and food and services companies provided equipment and assistance.

Solidarity and cooperation with the group grew to the point that the city government obtained funds to pay the women nearly two dollars a day for a time, and provide them with free transportation to take their materials to the wharf, where they were shipped to the city of Rivas. From there, the shipments go by road to Managua, 120 km away.

“The community appreciates the women’s work not only because they help keep the island clean, which has clearly improved its image for tourists, but also because they have showed a strong desire to improve their own lives and their families’ incomes,” said Potoy.

And they have done this “by means of a non-traditional activity, which broke down the stereotype of the role women have traditionally played in these remote rural communities,” she said.

Francis Socorro Hernández, another woman from the first batch of recyclers, told IPS that at the start “it was embarrassing for people to see us picking up garbage.”

But she said that after taking workshops on gender issues, administration of micro-businesses, and the environment, “I realised I was doing something important, and that it was worse to live in a polluted environment, resigned to my poverty – and I stopped feeling ashamed.”

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

The Concepción volcano, one of the two that are found on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, seen from the port of San Jorge in the western department or province of Rivas. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Their work also inspired other initiatives. For example, Karen Paladino, originally from Germany but now a Nicaraguan national, is the director of the community organisation Environmental Education Ometepe, which works with children and young people on the island in environmental awareness-raising campaigns.

When Paladino learned about the work of the recyclers, she got students and teachers in local schools to support their cause, organising clean-up days to collect waste which is donated to the women’s garbage collection and classification centre.

Ometepe is a 276-sq-km natural island paradise in the middle of the 8,624-km Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca, in the west of this Central American nation of 6.1 million people.

Not everything is peaches and cream

Of the 10 women who started the collective – now the Association of Women Recyclers of Altagracia – six are left.

They continue to scavenge for recyclable waste material, removing it from the island and shipping it to Managua, where it is sold. They make enough for their families to scrape by.

Gutiérrez said the mission has been difficult because of the high cost of transport, the job insecurity, and the scant financing they have found.

“We have always had support, thank God; the city government supported us, some hotels have too, people from the European Union gave us funds for improving the conditions of the landfill,” she said.

“But we need more funds, to be able to collect and transport the material, process it, and remove it from the island,” she added.

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Students and mothers from a school in the city of Altagracia make wastepaper bins using disposable bottles. It is one of the numerous recycling initiatives that have emerged on the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, inspired by a group of women who organised to collect and process garbage. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

With backing from the EU, the city government of Moyogalpa was able to improve the garbage dumps of the island’s two municipalities. Now there are large sheds in both dumps, where organic material is treated, as well as containers for producing organic compost using worms, and rainwater collection tanks.

The two municipalities also gave the recyclers plots of land for growing their own vegetables and grains for their families.

But the efforts and the solidarity were not sufficient to keep some of the women from dropping out.

As global oil prices plunged, the value of waste products also dropped, and profits did the same, which discouraged some of the women who went back to what they used to do: combining farm work with domestic service.

“I was really committed to the work of collecting garbage, but all of a sudden I felt that the project wasn’t doing well and I needed to feed my family, so I went with my husband to plant beans and vegetables to earn a better income,” María, one of the former members, told IPS.

“But I still collect waste products anyway, and although I’m not participating anymore, I donate them to my former mates in the collective,” said María, who did not give her last name.

But while some of the women dropped out, others joined. “The waste keeps pouring in, and support for our work is going to grow. Our families back us and we are enthusiastic,” one of the new women, Eveling Urtecho, told IPS.

With Gutiérrez’s leadership, backing from the city government, and renewed assistance from the EU, the women are confident that their incomes and working conditions will soon improve.

Ometepe – which means ‘two mountains’ in the Nahuatl tongue – is visited by an average of 50,000 tourists a year, and at least 10 million tons of plastic enter the island annually, according to figures from local environmental groups.

The association of Altagracia gathers between 1,000 and 1,200 kg of plastic a month, and their counterparts in Moyogalpa collect a similar amount.

Until the women launched their revolution, most of the waste in Ometepe ended up strewn about on the streets, in rivers and in backyards, or was burnt in huge piles. When it rained, the water would wash the refuse into the lake.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chile Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Killing of Aid Workers Threatens Humanitarian Response in Yemen Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:53:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

With 21 million Yemeni civilians caught in the grips of a conflict that has been escalating since March, the killing of two local aid workers Wednesday could worsen their misery, as a major humanitarian organisation considers the future of its operations in parts of the war-torn country.

Both victims were employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and had been traveling in the northern governorate of Amran, between the Saada province and Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, when a gunman reportedly opened fire on the convoy.

One worker died at the scene; his colleague was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his injuries soon after.

In a statement released earlier today, Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, condemned “in the strongest possible terms what appears to have been the deliberate targeting of our staff,” and expressed sympathy with the families and loved ones of his colleagues.

“It is premature for us at this point to determine the impact of this appalling incident on our operations in Yemen,” Grand said. “At this time, we want to collect ourselves as a team and support each other in processing this incomprehensible act.”

This is not the first time in recent months that the ICRC has come under attack.

On Aug. 25 gunmen stormed the organisation’s offices in the southern seaport city of Aden, held staff at gunpoint and made off with cash, cars and other equipment – marking the 11th time ICRC staff and premises have been compromised.

The humanitarian group has been providing food, water and medical supplies to civilians caught between Houthi rebels, and fighters loyal to former President Abu Mansur Hadi who are supported by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Fighting has now spread to 21 out of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Over 4,500 people are dead and over 80 percent of the country’s population of 26.7 million is in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes have been largely responsible for civilian deaths and most of the property damage, though rights groups like Amnesty International say both sides in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

United Nations agencies and other humanitarian groups are struggling to meet the needs of civilians, a task made harder by the Aug. 20 bombing by Saudi military jets of the Red Sea port, a major entry point for relief supplies.

Large swathes of the country are virtually inaccessible. Last week, the ICRC was forced to relocate its staff in Aden owing to the attack on its offices, and today the organisation told the BBC that it would halt movement of its staff “as a precaution”.

Such restrictions on aid imperil huge groups of people, who are almost entirely reliant on the international community for food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Some 12 million people are food insecure and 20 million people have no access to clean drinking water.

A top U.N. relief official called Wednesday’s shooting “a despicable act” that “proves once again the urgent need for all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect the lives and rights of civilians and provide aid workers with a safe environment to work in.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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