Inter Press ServiceAid – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Jan 2018 17:32:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Policy Support Gap for “Climate-Smart” Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 01:11:26 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153791 Conditioned that ploughing is the sure way to produce crops, Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima surprised himself by trying a different method. He planted cowpea seeds directly without tilling the land. It worked. The new method tripled Zvomarima’s cowpea yield when many farmers did not harvest a crop following the El Nino-induced drought which affected more […]

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Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima (centre) and family members admiring their cowpea crop in Shamva District, planted using conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima (centre) and family members admiring their cowpea crop in Shamva District, planted using conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

Conditioned that ploughing is the sure way to produce crops, Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima surprised himself by trying a different method. He planted cowpea seeds directly without tilling the land. It worked.

The new method tripled Zvomarima’s cowpea yield when many farmers did not harvest a crop following the El Nino-induced drought which affected more than 40 million people in Southern Africa.Some of the technologies that more farmers need include access to resilient seeds and livestock breeds, timely weather information and weather index insurance.

Zvomarima from Shamva District, 120 km northwest of Harare, adopted the water-saving method known as ‘no till farming’. This is part of the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices and approaches developed and promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This model of climate-smart agriculture seeks to sustainably increase productivity and incomes while helping farmers adapt to and become more resilient to the effects of climate change. CSA practices also aim to reduce and remove agriculture’s greenhouse gases emissions, where possible.

With policies, CSA practices pay

“Policymakers have a role to play in climate-smart agro-technological innovation; the researchers suggest traditional supply-side measures and equivalent demand-side measures (such as tax breaks) could reduce cost and increase return on investment for users,” said Dr. Federica Matteoli, project Manager at FAO Climate Change and Environment Division in Rome.

She shared a case study of Italy’s embrace of CSA at the 4th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture in Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2017. Matteoli said policies need to be compatible with CSA objectives and their ability to boost the development and adoption of CSA technological innovation.

Italy was currently at the forefront of promoting research and developing scientifically supported policies related to climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, Matteoli said. At the same time the country was promoting the application of the principles of CSA to locally building resilience throughout the food system.

Matteoli said cooperation and knowledge sharing can promote an enabling policy environment at national and local level in promoting CSA. Italy has promoted conservation agriculture, no tillage practices, climate-smart production systems and knowledge transfer which have collectively been called the Italian Blue Agriculture.

For an enabling environment to promote CSA, potential users must be engaged with earlier in the innovation process, ensuring sharing of information and linkage with universities, technical bodies and national institutions. In addition, there is need for appropriate education programmes and awareness campaigns and the identification of knowledge needs for CSA and priority areas for intervention using consultative and participatory approaches, Matteoli said.

CSA adoption down, time to scale up

Researchers say CSA techniques are effective but there is urgency to quickly spread out the practices, innovations and technologies as climate change threaten agriculture productivity. Some of the technologies that more farmers need include access to resilient seeds and livestock breeds, timely weather information and weather index insurance.

Scaling up CSA needs bold and inclusive policies which are still lacking several decades after CSA approaches were introduced. Researchers and development actors argue that alternative farming methods have been proven to help farmers cope with weather variability and still harvest crops even in poor rainfall.

Another Zimbabwean farmer, Fungisai Masanga (44) saved 150 dollars in labour in the last season after adopting conservation agriculture, another approach of climate smart agriculture. She intercropped maize with nitrogen fixing cowpeas, pigeon pea and lablab.

“This system has allowed us to have more crops in the same field,” says Masanga, a mother of five children. “We have harvested some of the cowpeas which my family has enjoyed and we are soon to harvest maize too, all from the small field where we did not have to plough.”

Zimbabwe has a national investment framework which has recognized CA as a sustainable agriculture intervention and as a tool in climate change adaptation. Promoters of conservation agriculture laud it for saving soil moisture, enabling farmers to plant crops earlier and produce more yield and income in 2-5 cropping seasons.

However, mass adoption of these production changing innovations is not happening across Southern Africa, much to the chagrin of scientists. One reason being the promotion of manual CA systems to farmers, competition for crop residues with livestock, lack of access to appropriate machinery, and increased need for weed control in the first cropping seasons after conversion.

Many innovative climate-smart agriculture practices have been developed in Africa with the capacity to increase productivity and build resilience. These are largely unknown and therefore not adopted, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) found in a 2015 study.

Dr. Christian Thierfelder from CIMMYT explains the multiple benefits of ‘climate-smart agriculture’, in conservation agriculture plots with a maize-cowpea intercropping system outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Dr. Christian Thierfelder from CIMMYT explains the multiple benefits of ‘climate-smart agriculture’, in conservation agriculture plots with a maize-cowpea intercropping system outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Agriculture on the global agenda

Several countries who signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 have included agriculture as both an adaptation and mitigation strategy on climate change in their national development plans and climate-related strategies including the Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).

The United Nations recently agreed to discuss issues related to agriculture, paving the way for the promotion of CSA approaches such as heat adapted crops and weather index insurance for crops and inputs.

This actually means that if one has policy that supports climate smart technologies then one needs to tackle a wide range of policy issues, says Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Campbell cites improving the regulatory framework for index-based insurance, enhancing the ICT regulations so they can foster the spread of mobile phones and connectivity and enhancing the business operating framework so that private sector can function easily.

“Scaling up is crucially dependent on government, providing an enabling policy environment for farmers and business,” Campbell told IPS. “Research also needs to be changed, to be much more connected to the end-users of stakeholders – research must be directed to the issues that stakeholders see as priorities.”

Show us the money

Food security is an urgent priority but agriculture has been the poor cousin when it comes to investment both in research and innovations compared to other sectors. Campbell predicts a slow process in agriculture investment.

“Agriculture is also to blame – the sector lags behind in terms of its excitement around innovation – when one thinks of climate smart solutions, the public think of electric cars, wind energy,” he said, adding that, “Agriculture needs to up its game on innovation and communicating about the exciting things that are indeed happening in agricultural innovation.”

Upping agriculture’s game needs money, which the sector does not have.  Global costs of adaptation in the agricultural sector have been estimated at 7 billion dollars per year to 12.6 billion per year but only. 2.5 percent of public climate finance goes to agriculture. The majority of the needs for finance will have to be derived from private sources, making it imperative to get markets in agriculture working in Africa, currently a net food importer spending more than 50 billion dollars annually.

“Without a conducive policy environment, we cannot achieve much,” argues Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), an ACP-EU institution based in The Netherlands, which has just launched a 1.5 million Euro regional project to help more than 150,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe address the impacts of climate change.

Stable and clear CSA policies matter in attracting public investment in public goods such as weather stations, data quality and training, Ajayi says while highlighting the need by researchers and development workers to effectively engage in CSA policies by understanding the political process, and identify policy champions and shapers that could help in policy engagement.

“We need to create an enabling policy environment with government and private sectors cooperating in order to upscale CSA,” said Ajayi. “We have to make sure that within policies, we emphasize empowering women and youths.”

The challenge to science and policy makers is how to bring the science/policy nexus and to directly bear on accelerating and expanding the evolution, adaptation and uptake of climate smart farming practices, Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), who gave a keynote address at the 4th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture in South Africa last November.

According to the Malabo Montpellier Panel – a group of international agriculture experts guiding policy choices on food and nutritional security in Africa – examples and innovations in climate smart agriculture have multiple benefits. For example, agroforestry helps to diversify the produce of farms, improves soil quality and enhances resilience. Solar irrigation enables smallholder farmers to increase their yields without contributing to emissions while the use of stress tolerant seed varieties counter climate change, are more nutritious and are often more pest and disease resistant.

Climate Smart Agriculture not smart?

The concept of ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ was originally developed by the FAO and the World Bank, claiming that “triple wins” in agriculture could be achieved in mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation (supporting crops to grow in changing climate conditions), and increasing crop yields. The FAO views CSA as an approach for developing agricultural strategies for food security under climate change.

But the global civil society organization, ActionAid, says there is confusion on the meaning and benefits of climate smart agriculture.

A number of industrialised countries (the US in particular), along with a number of agribusiness corporations, are now the most enthusiastic promoters of the concept, ActionAid says.

“But increasingly civil society and farmer organisations express concerns that the term can be used to green-wash industrial agricultural practices that will harm future food production, said ActionAid in briefing.

ActionAid contends that some governments and NGOs also worry that pressure to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture will translate into obligations for developing countries’ food systems to take on an unfair mitigation burden. They point out that their agricultural systems have contributed the least to the problem, but that mitigation obligations could limit their ability to effectively adapt to the climate challenges ahead.

“Ultimately, there are no means to ensure that ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is actually smart for the climate, for agriculture, or for farmers,” says ActionAid.

While there is debate on the benefits and constraints of climate smart agriculture technologies, its techniques such as conservation agriculture have improved the productivity for farmers like Zvomarima.

“CA has produced good results for me and as I apply its methods more, I am convinced my crop yields can only get better.”

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Perpetrators of Crimes against Humanity Must be Brought to Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:46:11 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153631 On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that the forcible expulsion of more than 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh has aggravated the dire human rights and humanitarian situation of the Rohingya.

He remarked inter alia that international decision-makers, members States of the United Nations and NGOs have a “moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and other persecuted people worldwide.”

In this regard, Dr. Al Qassim stated that “the Geneva Centre took the initiative on 11 and 12 October 2017 to call upon the members of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to hold a special session in solidarity with the Rohingya people and to address the situation in Myanmar.

Our call for peace, solidarity and justice in Myanmar was heard; on 5 December 2017 a special session was convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva to identify a common platform to end the atrocities committed on the Rohingya people guided by the principles of justice and human solidarity. It is only through joint action and human solidarity that world society can respond with a unified voice to address the plight of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

Although the holding of the special session on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine Sate of Myanmar reached its objective, the world society must keep its gear high in calling for peace and social justice. Dr. Al Qassim added:

Our efforts to address the situation in Myanmar will be in vain if the international community limits its action to include the adoption of resolutions and declarations in support of the Rohingya people.

Endemic poverty, violence and stark inequalities remain high in Rakhine State. Once the Rohingya refugees start to return to their home societies as envisaged in the ‘Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State’ signed on 23 November between Bangladesh and Myanmar which presupposes that it will become safe for them to do so, the main task will lie in rebuilding a safe, stable and inclusive society for all.

The Rohingya people and other minorities in Rakhine State must be allowed to enjoy full and unconditional legal protection and fundamental freedoms. I appeal to the government of Myanmar to review and revoke the 1982 Citizenship law that degrades the status of the Rohingya people and other minorities to second-class citizens. All citizens of Myanmar are entitled to enjoy equal and inclusive citizenship rights,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

In conclusion, he added that perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. Strengthening accountability and transitional justice in post-conflict Myanmar are imperative to end impunity and bring peace and stability to the region.

Myanmar must take its future into its own hands and address all human rights concerns deriving from the current situation in Rakhine State. Decision-makers in Myanmar must remain committed to developing a peaceful and inclusive society in which the Rohingya people and other minorities are considered as integral components of the society of Myanmar and the international community must continue to assist victims to ensure their livelihoods and Bangladesh to enable it to be in a position to provide them with decent shelter,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Long Maligned for Deforestation, Charcoal Emerges from the Shadowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/long-maligned-deforestation-charcoal-emerges-shadows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=long-maligned-deforestation-charcoal-emerges-shadows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/long-maligned-deforestation-charcoal-emerges-shadows/#respond Mon, 18 Dec 2017 22:42:33 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153608 “We have various financial obligations that push us to charcoal making. Top on the list is farming inputs and school fees,” explains Arclay Moonga, a charcoal producer and chairperson of the recently formed Choma District Charcoal Association in Southern Zambia. His statement validates a popular belief among the locals here that charcoal is their own […]

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Tree seedlings at a nursery in Zambia, where charcoal production is worsening deforestation. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Tree seedlings at a nursery in Zambia, where charcoal production is worsening deforestation. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
CHOMA, Zambia, Dec 18 2017 (IPS)

“We have various financial obligations that push us to charcoal making. Top on the list is farming inputs and school fees,” explains Arclay Moonga, a charcoal producer and chairperson of the recently formed Choma District Charcoal Association in Southern Zambia.

His statement validates a popular belief among the locals here that charcoal is their own version of Automated Teller Machines, or ATMs.In a society where charcoal production and the associated trade are mostly illegal, organising producer and trader groups has proven challenging.

Due to high demand, charcoal offers guaranteed cash income, adds 47-year-old Moonga. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Forestry and Farm Facility (FFF) programme, this belief captures one of the main challenges to forests in Zambia, where small-scale farmers and charcoal producers have long been seen as the main reasons behind the country’s increasing deforestation and forest degradation problems.

In a country where forest land accounts for 59 percent of the total area, boasting at least 220 tree species, containing 3,178 million square meters as growing stock, 2.74 billion tons of biomass, and 1.34 billion tons of carbon, the deforestation rate is alarmingly high, currently at 276,021 hectares per year.

Based on the results from the Integrated Land Use Assessment (ILLUA II), Southern province is ranked the third least forested and regenerated area after the Copperbelt and Lusaka. The resultant effects of forest loss have impacted negatively on livelihoods.

“You may agree with me that some experiences like having some rivers that flowed throughout the year becoming seasonal, depletion of firewood sources in nearby places and water shortages are a common challenge causing some women to travel long distances to fetch these basic requirements for domestic use,” observed Daglous Ngimbu, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Southern Province.

Ngimbu told IPS that government is concerned that a province known for its contribution to agriculture is witnessing increased charcoal production, with a worrying trend where even food tree species such as Uapaka Kirkiana, locally known as Masuku, are not being spared by charcoal producers.

These are some of the key challenges that the FFF programme is addressing. A partnership launched in September 2012 between FAO, IIED and IUCN, and AgriCord, its Steering Committee is formed by members affiliated with forest producers, community forestry, indigenous peoples’ organizations, the international research community, business development service provider organizations, private sector, government, and donors.

In addressing the challenges, the FFF is using a unique approach—encouraging sustainable production of charcoal through increased support for collaboration between the Forest Department and the agricultural sector to improve smallholder producer organisations’ technical capacity, and strengthening of enterprise development.

But in a society where charcoal production and the associated trade are mostly illegal, organising producer and trader groups has proven challenging.

“I am reliably informed that it was not easy to bring charcoal producers together and start working with the forest department on various initiatives,” said FAO Country Representative, George Okech during a signing ceremony of a 15,000-dollar grant with the first ever Charcoal Association in Zambia—Choma Charcoal Association, comprising producers, transporters and traders among other stakeholders.

“The Forest and Farm Facility programme believes that organising the producers into groups is the first step to build capacity for sustainable utilisation of forest resources and improve business opportunities for the rural poor people who depend on these forests resources for their lives,” Okech said.

The grant is meant to support the Association in mobilisation of charcoal producers and institutional growth, demonstration of low cost and efficient technologies to produce charcoal that reduce waste of forest materials and to increase participation of members in sustainable forest management activities.

As a platform for capacity building and policy dialogue, Okech said the Charcoal Association is receiving additional support through the Forest Department, which has been given 52,960 dollars for tree nursery growers and other women’s groups related to basket-making activities.

For long-term policy support, “FAO through this facility has also supported the Forest department to develop a new charcoal regulation which is in draft, that will require charcoal producers to form Associations before licenses are provided,” he told IPS.

Interestingly, this bottom-up approach has brought on board and improved key stakeholders’ participation at the local level—the local councils and traditional leadership. The formation of the Charcoal Association was debated and voted for in the full council meeting, giving a voice to the otherwise voiceless charcoal business players.

With this development, their views will now be carried along all the way through to the highest national development decision-making level and mainstreamed into policies and implementation strategies.

“While the people of Choma largely depend on agriculture for livelihoods, the council is aware of climate change which is having a negative impact on agriculture, and we are alive to the fact that forests play a key role in the whole ecosystem,” noted Javen Simoloka, Mayor of Choma municipality.

“That’s why the full council voted for the formation of the Charcoal Association to strengthen community participation and ensure that their views are carried along in the management of forest resources.”

When His Royal Highness Chief Cooma heard this idea for the first time, his initial reaction was skepticism.

“I have a strict policy on conservation of forests in my chiefdom, regulating tree-cutting activities. Therefore, I was worried to hear that higher authorities had allowed for the formation of such a charcoal Association, which to me, was like giving a license for destruction of trees,” he said.

“But I am grateful that Charcoal Associations are not about indiscriminate cutting of trees,” he added with a sigh of relief, as he showcased portions of an indigenous regenerated and exotic forest reserve surrounding his palace.

It is also a relief for Moonga. “Even when we dully paid for licenses, we usually stayed away from government activities out of fear. Most of our members would move their products in the night just because of the perception that all charcoal trading was illegal,” lamented Moonga.

“But now I know that we have been empowered. Personally, as a producer for over 20 years, no one can intimidate me on prices anymore, I am free to bargain with traders and sell publicly as opposed to the past when I would sometimes be forced to sale at give-away prices for fear of being caught by authorities.”

For a country where over 70 percent of the population depends on biomass energy – charcoal and wood fuel – adopting such a community-friendly approach to forest management, formalizing what has over the years been considered illegal, could prove to be the difference between environmental degradation and sustainability.

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Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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SLIDESHOW: Tales of the 21st Century – Rohingyas Without a Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=153539 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:42:36 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153539 IPS journalists have been reporting from the camp areas within Bangladesh. They have met and spoken to many Rohingya families and learned first-hand what happened to them - the women, children and men - and what their hopes are for the future. Our journalists captured images from far and wide that reflect the agony and fears of the Rohingya who are living in dismal conditions.

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A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By IPS World Desk
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

The world has witnessed innumerable images of the long walk to ‘freedom’ of Rohingya women, children and men. Some trudged for endless hours and days, many carrying elderly parents and babies in baskets, with the women suffering the unimaginable trauma having been victims of rape, torture and harassment.

Some of them took boats and drowned, others floated their children in oil drums, not knowing how to swim. They fled their burning homes in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, crossing over to Bangladesh, stateless, homeless and hopeless.

These images, which spoke a thousand words, shocked the world. The United Nations described the tragedy as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Over 600,000 Rohingya are now in living in camps Bangladesh, cared for by local and international NGOs, United Nations organizations such as IOM and government entities.

What lies at the root of this humanitarian crisis? Why have so many people been forced to flee their homeland? The exodus began in August after Myanmar’s security forces responded to Rohingya militant activities with brutality.

The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding for decades, going back to 1948, when Myanmar gained independence. As the Rohingya felt insecure and feared genocide, amid growing international concern, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed by the Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to find ways to heal simmering divisions between the Rohingya and Buddhists.

In its final report, the commission urged Myanmar to lift restrictions on movement and to provide citizenship rights for the Rohingya in order to avoid fuelling ‘extremism’ in Rakhine state.

So, what must be done? While there are no simple solutions, Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a deal for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims. The question now is can they safely return to their lands and homes – many of which were burned to the ground – and live as free people with the same rights accorded to Myanmar’s Buddhist majority?

 

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

 

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

 

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

 

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Two Rohingya children carries firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh's Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man's land along Naikhongchhari border. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Two Rohingya children carry firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh’s Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man’s land along Naikhongchhari border.
Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

 

Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

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Money Talks at One Planet Summit in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 12:27:17 +0000 Paris Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153552 As funding to combat climate change has lagged behind lofty words, the One Planet Summit in France this week invited governments and business leaders to put money on the table. The result was a significant number of international pledges – both for investment in green energy and divestment from fossil fuels – as various sectors […]

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Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Credit: AM

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Credit: AM

By Paris Correspondent
PARIS, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

As funding to combat climate change has lagged behind lofty words, the One Planet Summit in France this week invited governments and business leaders to put money on the table.

The result was a significant number of international pledges – both for investment in green energy and divestment from fossil fuels – as various sectors responded to the call from French President Emmanuel Macron for urgent action.Some of the drive at the summit came from small island states, which have been battered by recent hurricanes and other disasters.

“We’re not going fast enough,” Macron said at the Dec. 12 summit, which he co-convened with the United Nations and the World Bank. “Some countries present will see their territories disappear. We all have to move forward… The time is now.”

French multinational insurance company AXA announced that it plans to have 12 billion euros in green investments by 2020 and that it would divest 2.4 billion euros from certain coal-company activities.

Meanwhile the World Bank Group (WBG) highlighted its funding of projects in India for street lighting; in West Africa to tackle “coastal erosion, flooding and climate change adaptation”; in Indonesia regarding geothermal-power development; and with the Global Covenant of Mayors in a new “Cities Resilience Programme” (CRP).

“Over the next three years, the CRP will leverage $4.5 billion in World Bank loans to catalyze billions in public and private capital for technical assistance, project co-financing and credit enhancement,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

He said that the programme would essentially “act as an investment banker for cities to structure programs to address their vulnerabilities to climate change”.

Kim also announced that the World Bank would not be financing upstream oil and gas after 2019, but that in “exceptional circumstances”, consideration would be given to such financing in the “poorest countries” where there is a clear benefit in terms of “energy access for the poor”.

The bank said it was on track to meet its target of 28 percent of its lending going to climate action by 2020.

With these and other announcements, the One Planet Summit, held two years after the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement, aimed to add momentum to the push for adequate financing of climate adaptation and mitigation, said some observers, while others termed it a public-relations exercise.

The summit brought together heads of state, local government representatives, non-governmental organizations – and schoolchildren. Journalists were out in force, alongside United Nations delegations, at the Seine Musicale venue, an imposing new arts centre on an island in the river Seine, just outside Paris.

Government leaders arrived by boat with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Macron and Kim, the co-convenors, for a packed afternoon of panel discussions and speeches, following morning events.

“Technological progress has already revealed the falsehood that responding to climate change is bad for the economy,” said Guterres. “Finance could be, should be and will be a decisive factor.”

Some of the drive at the summit came from small island states, which have been battered by recent hurricanes and other disasters.

Caribbean representatives announced the launch of a 8-billion-dollar investment plan to create the world’s first “climate-smart zone”. The bodies involved include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and private groups, forming a “Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition”.

The goal is to find a way “to break through the systemic obstacles that stop finance flowing to climate-smart investments”, the Caribbean Development Bank said.

Juvenel Moȉse, Haiti’s president and a participant at the summit, spoke of the vulnerability of the region, emphasizing that all the islands are suffering from the impacts of climate change. He said that Haiti was in a “very fragile zone”.

American actor Sean Penn, also present, said he had got involved in helping Haiti to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, and he said more financing was needed.

“I call on all those gathered to stand with Haiti,” he urged.

Meanwhile, Canada and the World Bank Group said they would support small island developing states to expand their renewable-energy infrastructure to achieve greater access to energy and to decrease pollution.

In side events around the summit, groups such as the International Development Finance Club (which groups 23 international, national and regional development banks from across the world), highlighted their “green financial flows”.

The group said that in 2016, IDFC members made new commitments representing 173 billion dollars in finance, an increase of 30 billion from 2015.

The eve of the summit, Dec. 11, was titled Climate Finance Day, and it was also the 20th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol. Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), told journalists that the long years of negotiations had provided a framework in which all sectors of society could take action, as governments “cannot do it alone”.

She said there was a growing sense of urgency, especially after recent extreme weather events that had seen some communities “losing everything they have built throughout their lives”. More support was needed for adaptation, she and other officials noted.

At the summit, the Agence Française de Développement – an IDFC member — signed accords with Mauritius, Niger, Tunisia and the Comoros – as part of the agency’s Adapt’Action Facility.

With financing of 30 million euros over four years, Adapt’Action seeks to “accompany 15 developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, in the implementation of the Paris Agreement regarding adaptation,” the agency stated.

An official from Niger spoke compellingly of problems that included desertification. The country has been cited as an example of France not doing enough for its former colonies, and political analysts question whether that will change under Macron.

The European Union meanwhile said that its External Investment Plan (EIP) is set to mobilise some 44 billion euros to “partner countries in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood” by 2020.

Among its goals, the EIP aims to “contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals while tackling some of the root causes of migration,” according to the EU.

Regarding Asia and the Pacific, officials at the summit said action by countries in the region were “encouraging”. Heads of state included the prime ministers of Bangladesh and Fiji, who spoke of their climate initiatives. Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the country was among the first emerging states to offer a green bond.

The international nature of the summit made the U.S. absence even more noticeable. As U.S. President Donald Trump had announced earlier this year that the country would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he was not invited, French officials said.

Other American climate figures were present, however, such as businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Bloomberg said that around the world, businesses were taking “responsible” action because investors want to put their money in environmentally friendly companies.

Still, for some NGOs, not enough is being done, and the summit was more of what they had heard before.

“If governments and business are sincere in their commitment to the goals of the Paris Agreement, they would cease their financing of dirty and harmful energy projects around the world and would instead accept their responsibility for providing public finance to address climate change instead of letting business dictate the agenda,” said Meena Raman of Third World Network.

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Bangladesh Aims at Middle-Income Status by 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:14:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153526 The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades. But the first National Country Investment […]

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Bangladesh. Credit: FAO

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades.

But the first National Country Investment Plan for Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (CIP-EFCC), released December 13, provides a detailed road map for sustainable development that encompasses reduction in poverty, improving environmental and human health benefits and increasing resilience to climate change, among others.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself with strong environmental credentials, has endorsed the plan ratified at the highest levels of the National Environmental Council, pointing the way for other developing countries to emulate and follow in the footsteps on Bangladesh.

Described as a “strategic tool,” the plan is anchored to, and aligned with, the vision of transforming Bangladesh from a LDC to a middle income country by 2021, nine years ahead of the UN’s targeted date of 2030 to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plan, which will enable Bangladesh to monitor and assess the state of the environment, as well as investments in the context of climate change, also provides an avenue for multi sector policy dialogue and coordination for investment in CIP-EFCC – where state agencies, private sector, and civil society are able to advance areas of common interest, including in the forestry and timber sector.

Marco Boscolo, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organzation of the United Nations, and former Chief Technical Advisor of the project, told IPS that it was hard to underestimate the size of environmental challenges of Bangladesh.

“Every year, only due to riverbank erosion, tens of thousands of people lose their land and livelihoods, spurring a lot of internal migration, mostly towards cities. Landslides, cyclones and floods make headlines every year during the monsoon season,” he said.

The reasons are complex. Flooding is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Because the country is a flat delta, the monsoon season has always brought some level of flooding. However, climate change (more severe storms and cyclones) and trans-boundary water issues have exacerbated the problem, said Boscolo.

“The pressure on the land is huge. To get a sense of the level of population pressure in Bangladesh one can imagine that, if the whole population of the earth (about 7.6 billion) would be put all in the USA, the population density would be less than what is now in Bangladesh,” he declared.

Asked what Bangladesh needs to implement the SDGs, and also battle natural disasters, Boscolo said that with the adoption of SDGs, countries have sanctioned that most development challenges are cross-sectoral in nature.

Addressing the threat of climate change, tackling poverty and food security, addressing environmental degradation are not and cannot be the exclusive mandate of individual ministries and agencies, he pointed out.

“Unfortunately, in Bangladesh (as in many other countries), there is still a strong sectoral divide in terms of both structure, planning and budgeting which deters coordination and learning. Cross sectoral investment frameworks are essential to implement the SDGs.”

He said the Country Investment Plan (CIP) on the environment, forestry and climate change includes about 30 SDG indicators in its results framework.

Meanwhile, facts and figures on the state of the country’s environment are staggering: about 15 million people in Bangladesh alone could be on the move by 2050 because of climate change induced sea level increases and increases in areas under standing flood water.

With the highest population density of any non-city state globally, Bangladesh will have limited ability to absorb the internal movement of people, which will then lead to the external movement of Bangladeshis.

At the same time, saline intrusion (up to 8 km by 2030) resulting from sea level rise will create a significant reduction in agriculture productivity. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Temperature increases are already having a negative effect on yield of rice and other vegetable crops. By 2050 pulse yields under climate change are 8.8% lower than the projected value if climate change did not occur.

“This is followed by wheat and oilseed-rapeseed with 6.4% and 6.3%, respectively, as the greatest reductions in yield. By 2050 rice, yields of vegetables (as a group), and other crop11 (including jute) are 5.3%, 5.7%, and 3.3% less than the NoCC value in 2050, respectively.”

Additionally, extreme weather conditions (floods and cyclones) are expected to increase in frequency and intensity in Bangladesh. Losses related to the 2007 and 2009 cyclones were estimated at around two million metric tons of rice, enough to feed 10 million people.

The south, southwest, and southeast coastal regions of Bangladesh are increasingly susceptible to severe tropical cyclones and associated saltwater intrusion. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Pollution can account for as many as one in four deaths. Extremely poor air quality, polluted food and water systems and industrial toxins all contribute to this scenario. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/environment/2017/10/20/pollution-can-account-one-four-deaths-bangladesh/

Asked about the importance of the CIP, Boscolo told IPS the five year CIP, which took two years to develop, responds to a growing need for an investment framework that allows for resources to be more targeted for environmental improvements, better coordination among agencies, and regular monitoring of the impacts of these investments.

He said the CIP had been designed to help the Government realize its policy objectives by guiding investment choices in their Annual Development Programs.

The plan has identified at least 46 agencies that implement 170 projects directly related to the environment, forestry and climate change. While those projects are worth some $5.0 billion, an additional $7.0 billion are needed by 2021 to meet development targets, such as those set in the Government’s seventh Five Year Plan.

Areas such as environmental governance, pollution control, and the management of natural resources were found to be particularly underfinanced, he noted.

“These additional investments are needed to ensure that the country’s economic development, which has progressed at a rate of over six percent per year, will continue and to ensure the health and well-being of the general public while safeguarding the environment,” Boscolo added. http://www.bd.undp.org/content/bangladesh/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/climate-protection-and-development-budget-report-2017-18–.html

Asked what is urgently needed to help implement the SDGs, Boscolo said improved targeting of climate change (CC) and environmental funds to activities that will have the greatest effect in mitigating the effects of CC and improving the environment.

Additionally, there has to be improved coordination and synchronization of CC and environment funding; increases in internal and external CC funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) etc; increased knowledge of the effect of CC and environmental pollution and the potential impact that targeted investments could have and improved governance structures to lead better CC and environmental investment in Bangladesh.

In particular, he said, there is a need for capacity enhancement within relevant organizations (e.g., General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Prime Minister’s Office’s relevant directorate and ministries like agriculture, disaster management, water resources etc.) which might be helpful.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Civil Society Summit Calls for International Action on Climate Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:37:46 +0000 Megan Darby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153489 Campaign groups meeting in Suva, Fiji, urged recognition of climate change in the global compact for migration due to be negotiated in 2018

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The riverfront in Suva, Fiji. Credit: Flickr/Michael Coghlan

By Megan Darby
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Civil society leaders from more than 100 countries called for action on climate-induced displacement at a summit in Suva, Fiji last week.

Their declaration urges the international community to uphold the human rights of people compelled to move as a result of global warming impacts.

Climate change should be recognised as a driver of migration in the global compact due to be negotiated by countries in 2018, say the campaign groups, which include Oxfam Pacific, 350.org and Act Alliance.

Danny Sriskandarajah, head of Civicus, the network convening the meeting, talked to Climate Home News by Skype from Suva. Climate-related displacement is “marginal both to the climate change negotiations and to the human rights negotiations,” he said.

“We think there is a real gap here. We know already there are people being displaced as a result of climate change and it is only going to get worse.”

The declaration follows the Trump administration’s decision to pull the US out of the developing global compact on migration. Sriskandarajah described that as a “hugely disappointing” development, adding that he hoped it would not discourage other countries.

In the Pacific, sea level rise is already making some island communities unviable. In 2014, Vunidogoloa in Fiji moved 2 kilometres inland, the first of 30 villages earmarked for relocation. Around 1,000 residents of Taro, in the Solomon Islands, are preparing to move.

Brianna Fruean, climate campaigner from Samoa, told Climate Home News even moving short distances was a wrench for islanders. “In the western world, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing – you are moving from one neighbourhood to another – but in a Pacific context it can be heartbreaking, because we are very tied to our land, to where our ancestors are buried,” she said.

That is partly why island campaigners have pushed strongly for a global warming limit of 1.5C: beyond that, low-lying coral atolls are set to be swallowed by rising seas.

Despite the adoption of 1.5C as an aspirational target in the Paris climate agreement, islanders are reluctantly preparing for the possibility of leaving their countries altogether.

“Climate change has been working faster than our talking,” said Fruean. “It is the sad reality.”

In other parts of the world, desertification, flooding and intensifying tropical storms can be triggers for people to leave their homes either temporarily or permanently. On the whole, they do not identify as “climate refugees” or “climate migrants” and may have multiple reasons for moving.

While international law has established rules about giving asylum to victims of political persecution, there is no special status for people displaced by climate change.

New Zealand, which has longstanding relationships with a number of Pacific island states, is planning to create the world’s first humanitarian visas geared towards climate-displaced people.

Sriskandarajah welcomed the initiative, but added: “We cannot rely on ad hoc responses by certain governments; we need multilateral action that is based on rights and responsibilities.”

The “global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration” was conceived in September 2016 in a New York declaration that mentions climate change five times. The end result is expected to establish voluntary guidelines for a more humane treatment of migrants.

Dina Ionesco heads a team at the International Organization for Migration focused on the links between environmental change and migration.

While she is optimistic the global pact will acknowledge the issue, Ionesco does not see much appetite among nations to create a system for designating people as “climate migrants”. “This is extremely sensitive,” she told Climate Home News.

As in the climate negotiations, some vulnerable countries are keen to discuss the subject but most have other priorities – in this context, border management, labour and human rights.

“We are focusing on supporting states so that they can have the necessary evidence and arguments to advocate for the recognition of climatic and environmental factors as drivers of migration,” said Ionesco.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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The Protracted Refugee and Migrant Crisis: A Challenge to Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:52:47 +0000 Idriss Jazairy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153482 Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

It is an incontrovertible fact that more people are on the move owing to globalization. Fifteen percent of the world’s population are on the move worldwide. In other words, of the world population of 7 billion, one billion are on the move. Seven hundred and forty million people are referred to as internal or as domestic migrants within their countries of origin. The number of internally displaced persons reaches about 60 million. On top of this, the world has more than 244 million international migrants who cross borders often into the unknown. Lastly, there are 22.5 million refugees – encompassing the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees – registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who have been forced to flee their home societies as a result of violence and armed conflict. The first two decades of the 21st century will go down in history as the era in which the world has witnessed the most complex and massive movement of people since the end of the Second World War.

Idriss Jazairy

Although we can conclude that global human mobility is an integral part of the Earth’s DNA, the unprecedented cohorts of people on the move has resulted in the emergence of new challenges that call for urgent attention and action. The inflow of displaced people to Europe has been exploited by a populist tidal-wave to fuel xenophobia and in particular Islamophobia. Walls and fences are being built in the North in flawed attempts to prevent displaced people from reaching their destination countries and to criminalize migrants and refugees. Although the arrival of displaced people to Europe only add up to 0.2% of Europe’s population, human solidarity and justice are being frayed by the fear of the Other.

On the eastern and southern side of the Mediterranean Sea, millions of people have sought refuge and protection. They have found shelter in countries of the Arab region as the right to free movement further to the North has been “postponed” and denied to displaced people. Lebanon – a country of approximately 4 million people – is providing protection and refuge to approximately 1 million displaced people. Jordan – neighbouring both Iraq and Syria – has accommodated around 1.2 million refugees. Although Iraq and Egypt face internal turmoil, Bagdad and Cairo are hosting about 240,000 and 120,000 people respectively. Turkey has likewise given refuge to roughly 3 million refugees, primarily Syrians. In summary, the majority of the burden in hosting and in providing assistance and protection to, displaced people is being taken up by countries in the less developed parts of the world despite the fact that they often lack adequate resources to respond to the influx of displaced people.

While rich countries in the North bicker about burden-sharing between them of inflows of migrants representing 0.2% of their global population, MENA countries provide access without blinking to inflows that may add up to 25% of their own nationals!

How can the world move forward to respond in unison to address the resulting rise of populism and the lack of social justice that prevails in our modern societies in relation to human mobility?

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” said the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire in response to the growing number of people who perish on a daily basis in their perilous and hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. According to IOM, the 2017 migrant death tolls in the Mediterranean has exceeded 2,950 casualties. Despite that, migrants risk their lives to seek protection. Populist and right wing extremist forces continue – in a flawed and misleading attempt to promote policies of exclusion – to depict migrants and refugees as the source of instability, although the adverse impact of globalization is mainly to blame. The campaign of fear waged against migrants and refugees is bringing back the spectre of nationalism and chauvinism that threatens international cooperation and peace over the long run.

How can this threat be overcome? We need to return to a climate in which diversity is embraced and celebrated. I often refer to the example of the United States as a shining example of a country that became one of the world’s most successful owing to the fact that it embraced and celebrated diversity in earlier times, if not currently. If contemporary nations want to repeat the successes of the United States and of other countries with strong traditions in upholding and harnessing the power of diversity, they must resort to the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights for all peoples regardless of religious, cultural, ethnic, and/or national backgrounds. Societies that demonstrate respect for human dignity are the ones most likely to be winners in the long run.

Governments in the Middle East and in the West should address jointly the protracted refugee and migrant crisis in a multicultural context. The UN Global Compact for Refugees to be convened in 2018 will offer an opportunity to proceed along these lines. Enhancing international cooperation among countries in Europe and in the Arab region is indeed key to identifying a more equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing system in response to the current situation in which displaced people are restricted in the exercise of their right to seek refuge and protection.

This goal can be achieved through inter alia the allocation of resources, development aid as well as through internationally funded capacity-building programmes to raise the preparedness level for hosting large numbers of displaced people. In the words of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration Mr. Peter Sutherland – in his 2015 report:

“States must agree on how to address large crisis-related movements, not only to save people on the move from death or suffering, but also to avoid the corrosive effect that ad hoc responses have on our political institutions and the public’s trust in them.”

Identifying new approaches to promote equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing mechanisms would enable countries in Europe and in the Arab region to speak with one voice and to build coalitions on a variety of issues related to the safe and orderly movement of people in accordance with international law. The international community needs to commit to sharing responsibility for hosting displaced people more fairly and proportionately, being guided by the principles of international solidarity and justice. This is an occasion for all to recommit themselves to the lofty aims of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Global problems require global solutions. Attempts to regionalize such issues – as witnessed in many societies – are doomed to failure.

Over the long term the international community must act to eradicate the underlying causes leading to an excessive flow of destitute migrants. That means phasing out foreign military interventions, respecting sovereignty, supporting democracy and human rights through peaceful means only and joining forces to address impoverishment of the Global South as a result of climate change.

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For Freedom from Poverty, Universal Health Coverage Is a Musthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:29:14 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Githinji Gitahi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153471 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Dr Githinji Gitahi is the Global CEO of Amref Health Africa.

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Nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line and remain poor as a result of healthcare expenses. Credit: Paul Nevin

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Dr Githinji Gitahi
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Today is 12 December 2017 is an auspicious day, as it marks Kenya’s independence from colonial rule in 1963. Today is also Universal Health Coverage Day. It is the anniversary of the first unanimous United Nations resolution calling for countries to provide affordable, quality health care to every person, everywhere.

In Kenya illness can mean financial ruin.

Every day families are forced to sell their assets, rely on community support or see their modest life savings wiped out by medical bills.

Ill-health is a substantial burden not only on Kenyan families, but also on the country’s economic growth. Every year, nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line and remain poor as a result of healthcare expenses.

Out-of-pocket expenses at point of treatment in Kenya make up a third of the country’s total health expenditure, far above the World Health Organization’s suggested 15 or 20%.

Universal health coverage should be [viewed] as a rights issue,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). “Many families are getting into poverty because they are spending their savings for health care services.”

Across the globe there is a strong correlation between high rates of out-of-pocket expenses and catastrophic and impoverishing health expenditure. It is a powerful factor in inequality of access to healthcare, often forcing the poor to forgo medical treatment. It also increases costs, because when poor people finally seek treatment it’s either too late or else complications caused by delay have worsened their condition.

Approximately four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance, so the cruel reality is that most are just an accident or illness away from destitution. Among the poorest quintile a mere 3% have health insurance, this provided by the government’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). This rises to 42% of the wealthiest fifth where private cover is also more common. Additionally, there are stark disparities between rural and urban populations, where rates of coverage are an average of 12% and 27% respectively.

“Over the next 5 years, my Administration will target 100% Universal Healthcare coverage for all households”. Credit: State House

To its credit, the Kenyan government is taking steps towards reducing these inequalities. Payments for primary and maternal health services in public facilities have been abolished, resulting in increased utilization and improved outcomes, particularly among the poorest. President Uhuru Kenyatta at his inaugural speech emphasized, “Over the next 5 years, my Administration will target 100% Universal Healthcare coverage for all households”.

Devolution of health care provision to county governments should also ensure more efficient resource distribution, accountable health services and improvements in equity that will eventually help decongest the overstretched Referral Hospitals.

Recent initiatives by the NHIF–such as inclusion of outpatient care and introduction of health insurance subsidies for the poor–are helping to expand coverage beyond those in formal employment. As a result, roughly 88.4% of households with health insurance are covered through the NHIF.

But as long as 33.6% of Kenyans survive on less than US$1.90 per day, there are still millions who cannot access quality healthcare.

Affordability is not the only barrier. Lack of public awareness, high loss ratios due to fraud, and reluctance among insurers to underwrite cover for the poor are also important.

Health insurance contributes only about 13% to national health expenditure, with the balance made up of out-of-pocket expenses at point of treatment, government and tax revenues, and donor funding. Such statistics undermine Kenya’s ability to achieve universal health coverage, enshrined in Kenya’s Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal 3.

There is a clear need to develop low-cost, innovative solutions for expanding insurance coverage and technology must form part of such solutions. Technology-backed automation can improve efficiency and enhance transparency, both key requirements.

Mobile money can perform faster, more transparent and targeted health payments through health e-vouchers. Technology can process claims and enable healthcare consumers and providers to interact more efficiently, while offering more customized products to people of all incomes.

Efficient storage and sharing of patient data could reduce the cost of care by, for instance, tracing false claims, preventing repeat tests, or avoiding misdiagnosis.

Technology can also offer substantial savings in administration costs, which currently swallow a staggering 40% of the NHIF’s revenue, far in excess of the industry norm of 3-4%. Effective IT systems would help to reduce this astonishing disparity, as would improved governance and transparency. A lack of analytical capacity hobbles the NHIF’s ability to forecast and respond to increasing costs, hindering strategic planning and development. Better technology can address this.

However, such innovation must be accompanied by increased efficiency in health spending, through partnerships with institutions working to improving access to healthcare for the poor, and through policy dialogue between government and other stakeholders.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta holds a new born baby when she visited Makueni County Referral Hospital during the handing over of the 30th Beyond Zero mobile clinic. Credit: State House

Ultimately, sustainability demands increased investment in preventive care and primary health. Diverting cash away from the 60% of the health budget that currently goes to curative care will pay dividends. Better primary care reduces ill-health and catches disease at an earlier stage, when treatment is cheaper and more effective. It also frees up resources to expand insurance coverage for the poor.

Launching the country’s SDG Platform with the United Nations in New York during the UN General Assembly in 2017, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Dr. Amina Mohamed remarked, “As a government we have clearly prioritized the Universal Health Coverage agenda because it is one of the ways to protect our people from the consequences of out-of-pocket health expenditure which in Kenya forms about a fifth of family spending”.

This Independence Day, let us join hands to free every Kenyan from the tyranny of poverty by achieving universal health coverage. It is the foundation for economic development and prosperity.

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Are Value Chains a Pathway to Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/value-chains-pathway-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=value-chains-pathway-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/value-chains-pathway-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:56:51 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Shantanu Mathur http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153436 Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England; and Shantanu Mathur is Lead Advisor, Programme Management Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome, Italy. The views are personal.

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Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England; and Shantanu Mathur is Lead Advisor, Programme Management Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome, Italy. The views are personal.

By Raghav Gaiha and Shantanu Mathur
NEW DELHI, Dec 11 2017 (IPS)

Although difficult to ascertain whether it is a trend reversal, two recent FAO reports (2017a, b) show a rise in hunger globally as well as in Africa. The number of undernourished (NoU) in the world suffering from chronic food deprivation began to rise in 2014 –from 775 million people to 777 million in 2015 – and is now estimated to have increased further, to 815 million in 2016. The stagnation of the global average of the proportion of undernourished (PoU) from 2013 to 2015 is the result of two offsetting changes at the regional level: in Sub-Saharan Africa, the share of undernourished people increased, while there was a continued decline in Asia in the same period. However, in 2016, the PoU increased in most regions except Northern Africa, Southern Asia, Eastern Asia, Central America and the Caribbean. The deterioration was most severe in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern Asia (FAO 2017a,b).

Raghav Gaiha

In 2016, weak commodity prices were partly responsible for a slowdown in economic growth across Sub-Saharan Africa to 1.4 %, its most sluggish pace in more than two decades. With the population growing by about 3 % a year, people on average got poorer last year, and, by implication, more undernourished. The greater frequency and intensity of conflicts and crises further aggravated undernourishment.

Food systems are changing rapidly. Globalization, trade liberalization, and rapid urbanization have led to major shifts in the availability, affordability, and acceptability of different types of food, which has driven a nutrition transition in many countries in the developing world. Food production has become more capital-intensive and supply chains have grown longer as basic ingredients undergo multiple transformations. Expansion of fast food outlets and supermarkets has resulted in dietary shifts. The consumption of low nutritional quality, energy-dense, ultra-processed food and drinks, and fried snacks and sweets has risen dramatically in the past decade.

The concomitant shift to the more market-oriented nature of agricultural policies means that agricultural technology and markets play a more important role in determining food prices and rural incomes, and more food is consumed from the marketplace rather than from own production. The greater market orientation of food production and consumption has increased the bidirectional links between agriculture and nutrition: agriculture still affects nutrition, but food and nutritional demands increasingly affect agriculture. Increasing demands for energy-intensive products exacerbate environmental impacts of food value chains: for example, excessive use of agricultural chemicals to extract more dietary energy from every hectare while contaminating the very food it produces, along with groundwater and the soil; and the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock industries to feed the ever-increasing demand for meat and dairy products (Carletto, 2015).

Shantanu Mathur

Value chain concepts are useful in designing strategies to achieve nutrition goals. Central to this approach is identifying opportunities where chain actors benefit from the marketing of agricultural products with higher nutritional value. However, value chain development focuses on efficiency and economic returns among value chain transactions, and the nutritional content of commodities is often overlooked.

A food value chain involves a series of processes and actors that take a food from its production to consumption and disposal as waste. In a value chain, the emphasis is on the value (usually economic) accrued (and lost) for chain actors at different steps in the chain, and the value produced through the functioning of the whole chain as an interactive unit. A value chain is commodity specific, and thus involves only one particular food that is relevant within a diet.

As value chains are crucial in determining food availability, affordability, quality, and acceptability, they have potential to improve nutrition. What is required is to identify opportunities where value chain actors benefit from supplying the market with agricultural products of higher nutritional value. Value chain development, however, has rarely focused attention on consumers—consumers are simply considered as purchasers driving the ultimate source of demand. In this light, the value chain strategy is likely to be enriched by a stronger consumer focus, and, in particular, a focus on consumer nutrition and health. The empirical evidence on the role of value chains in improving nutrition is, however, scanty and mixed.

Basically, nutrition results from the quality of the overall diet, not just from the nutrient content of an individual food. In value chains, the focus is generally commodity specific, rather than on how to integrate multiple chains to contribute to an enhanced quality of diet. There may be offsetting impacts such that, if one value chain works better and consumption of the associated food increases, consumption of other foods may decline.

On the demand side, the central issue is how to promote consumption of nutritious foods by target populations that may not be able to afford a healthy diet. Similarly, on the supply side, an important concern is the feasibility of targeting the poorest smallholders and informal enterprises along the value chain, particularly, involving women.

An example from Nigeria elucidates the potential of value chains for enhancement of nutritional value and the constraints that must be addressed. Chronic undernutrition is pervasive in Nigeria, with rates of stunting and underweight alarmingly high and little progress over the last decade. There are major disparities in nutrition outcomes between the wealthy and poor, between the north and south, and between urban and rural areas. Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread across social groups. Vitamin A deficiency, for example, is associated with 25% of child and maternal deaths. Together with direct nutrition interventions, it is necessary to improve the functioning of food value chains and provide access to nutrient-dense foods to the urban and rural poor.

Cowpeas make a substantial contribution to the nutrition of poor populations in Nigeria. Cowpea grains contain an average of 24% protein and 62% soluble carbohydrates. They are rich in thiamine, folates and iron, and also contain zinc, potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and calcium, as well as the amino acids lysine and tryptophan. Markets for cowpea products are mainly informal, and the majority of products are produced by small-scale businesses and sold locally. Few formal sector businesses have invested in cowpea products, and there is limited innovation in value-added products. A merit of cowpea foods is that they are readily acceptable to diverse populations, widely available across the country and can be distinguished from less nutritious alternatives. However, affordability and availability of cowpeas is constrained by major supply-side problems. Cowpea prices fluctuate between seasons, due to the susceptibility of grains to degradation and low use of improved storage technologies. Although simple, safe and low-cost technologies are available in the form of improved storage bags, these are not prominent in wholesale and transport stages of the value chain. Besides, existing preservation techniques make use of pesticides that create risks of toxic contamination. Improving use of storage technologies along the value chain, including on-farm facilities, transportation and storage facilities in markets would help alleviate this constraint-especially for smallholders.

So the challenges are creating incentives for businesses to focus better on nutritional foods and conditions enabling smallholders to integrate better into these chains.

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two)http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:43 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153404 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

Under pouring rain, hundreds of young and expectant mothers stand in line. With her bare feet and the bottom of her dress covered in mud, Rashida is one of them, clutching her emaciated infant. She lost her husband on the treacherous trek from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and with nowhere to go and her resources exhausted, rain-drenched and standing in this long, muddy line for food and medicine for her child is her only hope.

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Following the recent brutal campaign unleashed against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military, over half a million refugees came to Bangladesh since August 2017, and more are arriving every day. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are nearly 150,000 newly arrived women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s September 2017 Situation Report on the crisis, there are over 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the new arrivals in Bangladesh who require targeted food and medical assistance.

“We collaborate with some groups and help refugees living in the camp areas where there is a shortage of medical supplies,” said Andrew Day, who has been advocating for refugees for the past two years in Bangladesh. “They don’t have the means to see a doctor.”

While small scale interventions are being taken by development organizations to supplement hospitals, such the placement of 35 midwives trained by UNFPA in two camps, hospitals are underfunded, overcrowded and struggling to provide care to the burgeoning pregnant refugee population and thousands of newborns.

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Early marriage and high birth rates are prevalent among the Rohingya community. According to a flash report on mixed movements in South Asia by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of the refugees were married young (at 16 or 17) and gave birth at an average age of 18.

In a Rapid Gender Analysis assessment conducted by Care in Balukhali Makeshift Camp at Cox’s Bazar, it was found that many female respondents between the ages of 13 and 20 years had children and others are currently pregnant.
The assessment uncovered that knowledge and practice of birth control was nonexistent or very limited among the Rohingya refugees, and religious sentiment was a strong factor contributing to the emphasis placed on pregnancy and the aversion to contraceptives.

“It (pregnancy) is God’s wish” said Jainul whose wife was expecting their sixth child. “God will help me feed the children,” he added. His wife echoed this belief.

According to locals, many Bangladeshis are donating money to the refugee camps as they believe helping fellow Muslims will earn them God’s blessings, and the resources are being used to set up Madrasahs – religious education schools. The imams of these madrasahs advise against contraception, so while the government and relief agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are trying to provide birth control options and information on family planning, Rohingya women refuse to comply.

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Dhaka, who is conducting research in the refugee camps, said at first when she went into the camps, she saw a lot of elderly and middle-aged females, but there were very few young women.

“But when I asked them about their age, I found out they were in their twenties,” she said. Repeated childbirth coupled with the trauma they experienced in Myanmar had taken such a toll on them that they all looked decades older than their true age, she explained.

“Many Rohingyas married their daughters off very young so that the military won’t come and rape them because their bodies become less attractive after childbirth,” she said.

“It is a community decision, not the girl’s decision, but the girls have internalized it that they need to have a lot of children because they need to save their race which is being persecuted,” Dr. Yasmin explained, adding that this philosophy contributed to the Rohingyas having very large families.

With thousands of Rohingya children soon to be born in Bangladesh, the need for ramped up medical care is acute. However, an IRC/RI assessment in October 2017 found that nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women have not received medical care and 41 percent of families with pregnant women do not know where to go for medical care for pregnant women. The report concludes, “These results point to a need for health messaging and services, as well as antenatal care and emergency obstetric care across the makeshift settlements.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:58:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153380 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Afia* lines up her bucket every morning in the refugee camp for water delivery from humanitarian relief workers. On one particularly sweltering day, she kept four water pitchers in a row with gaps between them, hoping to insert another empty container in the space when the water arrived.

When another refugee saw this, she kicked away Afia’s pitchers, and a raging quarrel broke out. That night, the woman’s local boyfriend attacked Afia in her house, kicking her in the belly and hitting her mercilessly with a chair. Afia kept mum about the incident as her assailant threatened to kidnap and rape her in the jungle if she sought arbitration.

Afia is not one of the half a million Rohingyas who came into Bangladesh since this August from Myanmar. She is one of the thousands who have been living in the camps for years, and the water crisis has been exacerbated by the latest influx of refugees.

In the camps, men usually collect relief and water, with women going only when there are no males available. Since her husband left for Malaysia three years ago in search of work, she has not received any news from him and lives on her own in the camp, where scarcity of water is a heated issue and results in frequent altercations between the resident refugees.

While tubewells exist in the camps, many of them are dysfunctional as they are either too shallow and can no longer pump water, or have broken handles so no one can use them.

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Toilets

Women’s tribulations in the refugee camps do not end with water. Access to toilets is also a major problem. And the speed and scale of the recent influx – 624,000 arrivals since August and counting – have put basic services that were available in the camps prior to the influx are under severe strain. Spontaneous settlements have also sprung up to accommodate the new arrivals and these lack many basic amenities.

“There are no separate latrines for the women; the ones that exist do not have any lighting, are not close to their shelters and there’s absolutely no privacy,” said Shouvik Das, External Relations Officer of The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Bangladesh. “When we go to distribute food, sometimes the female refugees don’t want to take it because they then will need to go to the toilets and they dread that,” he added.

While many foreign and local NGOs and relief workers had set up tube wells and latrines for the refugees living in the camps, a safe distance was often not maintained between the latrines and the tubewells.

“Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination is a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines,” said Olivia Headon, Information Officer for Emergencies with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing vital WASH services to both the Rohingya and the communities hosting them.

“While IOM supports private WASH and sanitation areas to provide privacy and safety to women in the Bangladeshi community, similar areas are under development in the Rohingya settlements but are hindered by the lack of space,” she explained.

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Risks of disease outbreak

Labeled as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, the Rohingya lacked access to many basic rights in Myanmar, including healthcare. A large number of the new surge of refugees had been suffering from various diseases before their arrival, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Polio, and are now staying in cramped camps.

Their squalid living conditions, combined with scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, have triggered fears among health experts of disease outbreaks. And women, with their limited mobility and resources, are particularly at risk.

“Women will have to bear a disproportionate risk of the public health burden, and will be at the receiving end of all the negative environmental fallouts,” says Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director of United Nations Development Program, Bangladesh.

The female refugees suffer the worst during their menstrual cycles, with most of them reusing unsanitary rags or cotton for months. This is not only increasing their risks of infection and skin diseases, but also affecting their mobility. As a recently published report by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reads, “Women and girls are limiting their movement because of not only the fear of being harassed, kidnapped or trafficked but also because of their lack of appropriate clothing and sanitary napkins.”

However, while development organizations have been supplying sanitary products to the refugee women, many of them do not know how to use them because they have never had access to them.

“Some of them put the sanitary pads as masks on their faces because they simply didn’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of Gender Studies at BRAC University who has been working with the refugees in the camps.

“If the people who you are working with do not know what to do with the help you are providing, it will not be effective,” she added, “You will only be wasting money.”

*Names have been changed to protect the refugees’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:33:33 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153339 IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

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IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis.We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time.

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

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“Will Civil Society & Democracy in India Rise to the Existential Challenges They Face?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/will-civil-society-democracy-india-rise-existential-challenges-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-civil-society-democracy-india-rise-existential-challenges-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/will-civil-society-democracy-india-rise-existential-challenges-face/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 14:48:05 +0000 Ingrid Srinath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153330 Ingrid Srinath* is founder Director of the Centre for Social Impact & Philanthropy at Ashoka University in India

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While former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that ‘civil society is an indispensable partner of the United Nations’, the current Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has reiterated this commitment, noting civil society’s critical role in the success of the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: ISHR

By Ingrid Srinath
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

A cursory glance at international funding of the social sector in India reveals that it has grown at over 25% annually over the past three years.

This might seem at odds with the headlines describing the wholesale withdrawal of licences to receive foreign funds from thousands of NGOs, the heightened scrutiny that major international donor organisations are being subjected to as part of the infamous FCRA watchlist, and the legal travails of Greenpeace and Ford Foundation among others.

While aggregate totals of funds for the social sector, international and domestic, are clearly growing robustly, it is equally clear that their composition and intent have changed significantly.

Resources from technocratically minded donors seeking tangible, measurable impact within a relatively short time horizon are no substitute for the support of those willing to partner unpopular and underserved causes, issues of human rights and social justice, and to invest in building the long-term sustainability of institutions or in strengthening the civil society ecosystem.

For activists on the frontlines of protecting these freedoms, the response from organised civil society, domestic philanthropy and the media has been way too little, way too late.

The ruthlessness and persistence of authorities who have been willing to subvert laws and institutions to exact retribution on anyone who dissents from the laudatory official line, the lack of solidarity especially from the middle class and the media, the silence and complicity of business leaders, and the timidity of most Indian philanthropists has facilitated the intimidation, harassment, even murder, of human rights defenders, activists across domains, journalists, rationalists and minorities. A judge too, if recent allegations are proven.

As in too many other countries, the confluence of majoritarian, nationalist populism with the unrelenting erosion of institutional protections, demonisation of minorities, activists and critical journalists, and systematic amplification of fears of terrorism, violent crime and cultural ‘erosion’ provide cover for a creeping destruction of democratic institutions and constitutional freedoms.

From universities to media houses, businesses to Bollywood, the word is out. Deviating from, or criticising the powers that be is increasingly hazardous to life, liberty, health and wealth in India.

As citizens scramble just to breathe, access basic public services or simply get to school or work and back home safely, the outrage factory churns out an unending flow of ‘controversies’ to occupy minds and ‘inform’ debate. In a version of the boiling frog syndrome, each step towards outright authoritarianism raises the temperature just enough to cause discomfort without inciting drastic action.

The fact that the big, new source of funding in India is the corporate philanthropy prescribed by the Companies Act exacerbates the chilling effect by dis-incentivising any criticism of business, whether general or particular. NGOs seeking CSR funding must constrain themselves to activities and issues that are at least uncontroversial, if not primarily geared toward corporate reputation management.

Giving by Indian foundations and high net worth individuals is also burgeoning. Most, though not all, this ‘new’ philanthropy is technocratically minded, reflecting the culture of the information technology, finance and other sectors in which the wealth that fuels it was garnered. It too, mainly seeks safe, apolitical, measurable impact areas, and prizes close collaboration with government to either supplement, substitute or innovate the delivery of public services.

Little support has been forthcoming from mainstream Indian media which has, with rare exceptions, chosen to toe the lines of corporate owners, advertisers or the government. Civil society voices in the national media are few and coverage of the crackdown has largely been limited to disseminating, unchallenged, the government line.

Legal redress has proven more effective, for those who have had the stomach to take that route. It is, however, limited to the few organisations that can find the bandwidth, resources and courage to pursue the long, arduous route through the legal system. And prevailing in court is not sufficient to restore either incomes or reputation.

Civil society resistance to the onslaught has been limited, sporadic and lacking solidarity. Responses have ranged from denial to defeatism, leaving both outspoken activists and the voices of the marginalised, isolated and vulnerable.

A steady drip of disinformation, painting civil society as unaccountable, ineffective, corrupt and possibly anti-national has gone largely uncontested, alienating the middle-class constituency that might provide both material and political succor.

Where then, might a way forward be found? A small but growing number of civil society groups has begun to coalesce around core beliefs and values of constitutionalism, democracy, pluralism and justice offering solidarity with activists under threat and seeking to collaborate in new ways.

A few philanthropists too are willing to support these efforts including support for initiatives in the areas of governance, independent media, strengthening the ecosystem and amplifying marginalised voices.

More, much more, is necessary. “NGOs need to scale up; build second line leaderships; specialise; focus on systemic change rather than immediate vulnerabilities; engage and confront sagely; collaborate more closely; increase the footprint and relevance for ideas that support civil liberties democracy and rule of law through mass outreach; and rely on objective facts rather than ideology to make the public argument”, says Maja Daruwala, an erstwhile Board member of CIVICUS and, till recently, the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

Framing and disseminating a counter-narrative is critical. Communicating the size, impact, value, diversity and innovation of civil society could help recover lost ground and build new constituencies among young Indians and new entrants to the middle class.

Particular focus is necessary on adopting and communicating norms for accountability, transparency and governance. Facilitating these will require new channels of dialogue across barriers of ideology and thematic focus.

Investing in outreach, convening, capacity building and technology to strengthen domestic giving, especially from the Indian public, requires greater support from domestic philanthropy. More vitally, transcending the mind-sets and attitudes of mutual suspicion, hostility, competitiveness and disdain will require shared diagnosis of threats, opportunities and responsibilities.

International solidarity, while necessary, can be detrimental when it reinforces the notion that dissent emanates mainly from those whose interests are antithetical to India’s national interests and largely funded from abroad.

Solidarity, supporting convening across silos and facilitating the exchange of ideas and strategies from diverse contexts may be some areas where international donors could be helpful. So too would ensuring support, financial and non-financial, to the groups who are most marginalised in today’s Indian context.

Forging connections with like-minded Indian philanthropists, business leaders, journalists and civil society groups is another key contribution international donors could make. Persuading their own governments to uphold international norms and laws and to pursue values-based global standards in finance, banking, trade, climate and human rights are as necessary as is ensuring that the right of Indian civil society organisations to access international resources Is protected.

India’s democracy and its civil society are resourceful and resilient. They have coped with threats of similar magnitude in the past, most notably during the infamous Emergency of the mid 1970s.

Both, the champions of these values and their opponents, are now armed with greater reach, more sophisticated tools and broader networks that ever before. One side has greater access to money, political clout and fewer inhibitions to violence.

The eventual outcomes of this struggle between the forces of control and those of freedom are far from decided. We must each play our part in determining them.

* The views expressed in the article are personal and do not reflect those of the university or any other institution she is affiliated with.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:09:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153322 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

Mariam Akhtar, 23, is desperately searching for her young daughter two weeks after arriving from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district in Bangladesh.

Already traumatized by the extreme violence she and her family suffered in Buthidaung district in Myanmar, Mariam now faces fresh agony."There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children." --Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman

“With God’s blessings I was able to reach this camp in Kutupalong alive. But where is my safety here when I have a child lost?” asks the mother of three small children.

Faria Islam Jeba*, a mother of four, also expressed fears when this correspondent approached a group of women in Kutupalong camp. It is the biggest of more than 30 refugee camps scattered across a 35 km stretch of land between Teknaf and Ukhia, two of the small towns in southern Cox’s Bazar where Rohingya refugees are still pouring in every day by the thousands from neighbouring Myanmar.

Jeba experienced rapes and beatings in Myanmar. She says her brothers were shot by Burmese security forces. But Bangladesh isn’t the safe haven she’d hoped for.

“I feel so scared, especially at night when it is dark all around. The hilly terrain and the meandering, muddy roads here make it hard to keep watch on my children when they go out.”

Mariam and Jeba are among many young single mothers who say they lost children inside the camps. The disappearances have been documented by the government and the aid agencies working in the crowded camps.

Over 1,000 children, mostly young girls under aged less than 18 years, have gone missing since the influx of refugees reached its height in late August. Many are believed to have been smuggled out to other parts of the country by human traffickers. Others might have been taken abroad.

Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district commissioner who is supervising all activities in the camps under his command, told IPS, “In last three months we have punished 550 such alleged criminals who were caught red-handed while attempting to traffic children from the camps.”

“It is difficult policing [criminal activity] considering the sheer vastness of the camps. Many of the traffickers enter the camps in the guise of volunteer relief workers [and] they get easy access this way.”

To prevent fake relief workers from getting in, the administration recently introduced registration of all humanitarian organizations.

Still, the unaccompanied Rohingya children badly require protection in an organized manner. Only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 children attend religious schools (madrasas) instead of formal schools. Most are very vulnerable to trafficking as they have no guardians.

“What they [children] need is a ‘safe’ shelter, not just a physical bamboo shed shelter to live in. There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children. So, basically they need caretakers and a mechanism to monitor their presence,” said Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman.

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees are very poor and have had no formal education. “I don’t know who to talk to about the pain in my abdomen,” says a woman named Rina in a soft, broken voice. She came from a village in Buthidaung.

The most common problems women cited were lack of security, privacy and leadership for the refugees. The overwhelming majority are women who have no organized voice in the camps.

Nilima Begum from Maundaw district in Myanmar says, “While in Myanmar we never had any healthcare. We don’t even know what is a hospital or school, as we were highly restricted from moving around even within our own community.”

Amran Mahzan, Executive Director of MERCY Malaysia, an international aid agency working in the camps since a long time, told IPS, “The most common complaint we get from the traumatized women is malnourishment, followed by pregnancy-related complications.”

“The number of pregnant women is very high, and they have poor knowledge of nutrition or pre or post-natal care. Our doctors are continuously providing advice to women on maternity care and safe delivery, but with language and cultural differences being barriers, the level is compliance remains to be seen.”

There are 18,000 pregnant women waiting to deliver and thousands more who may not yet have been identified and registered for healthcare.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is now at the forefront of addressing some of the challenges of emergency reproductive healthcare.

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health at UNFPA, Bangladesh, told IPS, “Our priority response has been to offer access to emergency obstetric and newborn care services, clinical response services for survivors of sexual violence, provide a basic package of prevention for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, safe blood transfusion and practice of universal precautions in health facilities.”

Megan Denise Smith, gender-based violence (GBV) Operations Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Community outreach teams share essential information with women and girls regarding available services, whether this be medical, psychosocial or recreational activities to facilitate empowerment.”

She adds, “Mapping out specific areas where women and adolescent girls feel unsafe in talking to them directly will allow the community to then target these areas more effectively and establish a protective presence to prevent further risks.”

Mahmuda, Mental Health Programme Associate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IPS, “The biggest challenge in dealing with the women is the need for stress management which I think should be the priority. It is now a question of survival and psycho-social counseling already given to over 3000 women in the past three months shows the positive impact.”

Mahmuda, a psychiatrist leading a small team in Kutupalong camp, says, “The women are emotionally numb. Atrocities for Rohingy refugees are nothing new, even the recent ones. They have been exposed to such violence for years and so they continue to suffer from such psychological distress.”

The camps are gradually setting up Child-Safe Spaces for children to play and learn, as well as dedicated services for women. Privacy is an issue in the cramped and overcrowded camps.

Separate examining rooms and private consultation spaces where women can relate their health problems to doctors are also in place, though more are needed.

Dignity and safety are key as many of the women are pregnant as a result of rape and cannot speak up for fear of being stigmatized by others. Many international agencies working in the camps are considering recruiting more female health care professionals.

The challenge is colossal, with over million refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, dubbed the ‘fastest growing humanitarian refugee crisis in the world’.

So far, only 34 percent of the 434 million dollars pledged has been disbursed. One in four children is malnourished, and vaccination against communicable diseases and safe water are urgently needed.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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