Inter Press ServiceAid – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:43:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 No Wall for Ethiopia, Rather an Open Door—Even for Its Enemyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/no-wall-ethiopia-rather-open-door-even-enemy/#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:01:37 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150998 It’s one thing to read about the exodus of souls flowing out of Eritrea, it’s quite another to look into the tired eyes, surrounded by dust and grime, of a 14-year-old Eritrean girl who’s just arrived on the Ethiopian side of the shared border. She is carrying a scruffy plastic bag. Inside are a few […]

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Ethiopia's refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

Eritrean teenagers and young men, aged from 16 to 20, waiting at the Badme entry point to be moved to the screening registration center. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADINBRIED, Ethiopia, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

It’s one thing to read about the exodus of souls flowing out of Eritrea, it’s quite another to look into the tired eyes, surrounded by dust and grime, of a 14-year-old Eritrean girl who’s just arrived on the Ethiopian side of the shared border.

She is carrying a scruffy plastic bag. Inside are a few clothes, an orange beaker, and a small torch whose batteries have nearly run out.“We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers.” --Estifanos Gebremedhin, head of the legal and protection department for Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs

With her are four men, two women and five younger children, all of whom crossed the Eritrea-Ethiopia border the night before. Ethiopian soldiers found them and took them to the town of Adinbried.

The compound of simple government buildings where they were dropped off constitutes a so-called entry point, one of 12 along the border. It marks the beginning of the bureaucratic and logistical conveyor belt to assign asylum status to those arriving, before finally moving them to one of four refugee camps designated for Eritreans in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man among the group says about their trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.”

In February 2017, 3,367 Eritrean refugees arrived in Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). There are around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, according to the UN refugee agency.

Ethiopia’s open-door policy is in marked contrast to the strategies of migrant reduction increasingly being adopted in many Western societies.

And its stance is all the more striking due to the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments forever accusing the one of plotting against the other amid an atmosphere of mutual loathing.

But it appears the Ethiopian government is willing to treat ordinary Eritreans differently.

“We differentiate between the government and its people,” says ARRA’s Estifanos Gebremedhin. “We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers.”

Before Eritrea gained independence, it was Ethiopia’s most northern region. On both sides of today’s border many people still share the same language—Tigrinya—as well as Orthodox religion and cultural traditions.

Shimelba was the first Eritrean refugee camp to open in 2004. It now houses more than 6,000 refugees. About 60 percent of its population come from the Kunama ethnic group, one of nine in Eritrea, and historically the most marginalised.

“I have no interest in going to other countries,” says Nagazeuelle, a Kunama who has been in Ethiopia for 17 years. “I need my country. We had rich and fertile land, but the government took it. We weren’t an educated people, so they picked on us. I am an example of the first refugees from Eritrea, but now people from all nine ethnic groups are coming.”

Discussion among refugees in Shimelba camp of governmental atrocities ranges from accusations of genocide against the Kunama, including mass poisonings, to government officials shopping at markets and then shooting stall owners due to disagreements over prices.

“The world has forgotten us, apart from the U.S., Canada and Ethiopia,” says Haile, an Eritrean in his fifties who has been a refugee for five years. He says his father and brother died in prison. “What is happening is beyond language, it is a deep crisis—so why is the international community silent?”

Ethiopia's refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

Eritrean soldiers—now deserters—arriving at the Adinbried entry point. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

There are some, however, who argue the situation in Eritrea isn’t as bad as claimed. A UN report last year accusing Eritrea’s leadership of crimes against humanity has received criticism for being one-sided, failing to acknowledge Eritrea’s progress with the likes of providing healthcare and education, and thereby entrenching a skewed negative perspective dominant in policy circles and Western media.

“It is real, nothing is exaggerated,” says Dawit, a Shimelba resident of eight years. “We have the victims of rape, torture and imprisonment in our camp who can testify.”

About 50 kilometres south of Shimelba is Hitsats, the newest and largest of the four camps with 11,000 refugees, of whom about 80 percent are under 35 years of age.

“In Sudan there are more problems, we can sleep peacefully here,” says 32-year-old Ariam, who came to Hitsat four years ago with her two children after spending four years in a refugee camp in neighbouring Sudan.

Refugees say the Eritrean military launches missions into Sudan to capture refugees who have fled.

Ethiopia also hosts refugees from a plethora of other strife-torn countries. Its refugee population now exceeds 800,000—the highest number in Africa, and the 6th largest globally.

“Ethiopia strongly believes that generous hosting of refugees will be good for regional relationships down the road,” says  Jennifer Riggan, an associate professor of International Studies at Arcadia University in the US, and analyst of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

Others point out how there is also an increasing amount of money involved with refugees. The likes of the UK and Europe are providing Ethiopia with financial incentives to keep refugees within its borders—similar to the approach taken with Turkey—so they don’t continue beyond Africa.

Meanwhile, despite the apparent welcome given to Eritrean refugees, frictions remain.

“People recognise the shared culture and ethnic background, and that helps for many things, but there’s still distrust because of the 30-year-war [for independence],” says Milena Belloni, an anthropologist who is currently writing a book about Eritrean refugees. “There’s a double narrative.”

While both sides talk of the other as brothers, she explains, historically Eritreans have looked down on Tigrayans—based on them working as migrant labourers in Eritrea during its heyday as a semi-industrialised Italian colony—while Tigrayans viewed Eritreans as arrogant and aloof.

Either way, Ethiopia appears to be looking to better assimilate refugees by embracing the 2016 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees—pushed by former U.S. President Barack Obama—that called for better integration and education, employment and residency opportunities for refugees wherever they land around the world.

“Ethiopia’s response is to manage the gate, and figure out how it can benefit from these inevitable flows of people,” Riggan says. “I definitely think Ethiopia’s approach is the wiser and more realistic one.”

About 10 miles north of Adinbried the military forces of Ethiopia and Eritrea straddle the border, eying each other suspiciously through binoculars overlooking derelict military emplacements that serve as grim reminders of a former two-year war and ongoing fraught relations between the two countries.

In 1998 Eritrea invaded the small and inconsequential-looking border town of Badme before pushing south to occupy the rest of Ethiopia’s Yirga Triangle, claiming it was historically Eritrean land.

Ethiopia eventually regained the land but the fighting cost both countries thousands of lives, billions of dollars desperately needed elsewhere in such poor and financially strapped countries, and sowed rancour and disagreement festering ever since.

Because despite the internationally brokered peace settlement that followed the 2000 ceasefire ruling Badme return to Eritrea, Ethiopia still occupies it—the government felt the Ethiopian public wouldn’t tolerate the concession of a now iconic town responsible for so many lost Ethiopian lives—and the rest of the Yirga Triangle jutting defiantly into Eritrea.

While Badme hasn’t changed much since those days—it remains a dusty, ramshackle town—it too is involved in current Eritrean migration.

“I crossed after hearing they were about to round people up for the military,” says 20-year-old Gebre at the entry point on the edge of Badme. “I wasn’t going to go through that—you’re hungry, there’s no salary, you’re not doing anything to help your country; you’re just serving officials.”

With Gebre are another 14 males ranging in age from 16 to 20 who crossed to avoid military service, as well as two mothers who crossed with two young children each.

“Life was getting worse, I had no work to earn money to feed my children,” says 34-year-old mother-of-four Samrawit, who left two older children in Eritrea.

She travelled with 22-year-old mother-of-two Yordanos, having met her at the Eritrean town of Barentua, about 50 kilometres north of the border, and the rendezvous point with their smuggler.

Neither knows how much the smuggler earned for driving them to the border and helping them across: payment was organised by their husbands living in Switzerland and Holland.

“I would like to make sure coming here is worth it before my elder two children come,” Samrawit says.

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Children Now More Than Half of the 65 Million Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/children-now-half-65-million-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-now-half-65-million-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/children-now-half-65-million-displaced/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:47:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150981 Around 20 people are newly displaced every minute of the day, according to a new report. In its annual Global Trends report, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR has recorded unprecedented and concerning levels of displacement around the world. “We are used to looking at the world and seeing progress, but there is no progress to […]

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Around 20 people are newly displaced every minute of the day, according to a new report.

Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border where a makeshift camp had sprung up near the town of Idomeni. The sudden closure of the Balkan route left thousands stranded. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

Around 20 people are newly displaced every minute of the day, according to a new report.

In its annual Global Trends report, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR has recorded unprecedented and concerning levels of displacement around the world.

“We are used to looking at the world and seeing progress, but there is no progress to be made in terms of conflict and violence that is producing people who have had to flee,” said the Director of UNHCR’s New York Office Ninette Kelley, ahead of World Refugee Day.

In just two decades, the population of forcibly displaced persons doubled from 32 million in 1997 to 65 million in 2016, larger than the total population of the United Kingdom.

Of this figure, almost 23 million are refugees while over 40 million are displaced within their own countries. Approximately two-thirds of refugees have been displaced for generations.

Despite the slight decrease in displacement in the last year, the numbers are still “depressing” and “unacceptable,” Kelley told IPS.

“Each individual number really reflects a deep level of human loss and trouble and is experienced every minute and every second of every day,” she stated.

Much of the growth was concentrated between 2012 and 2015, and driven largely by the Syrian conflict which, now in its seventh year, has forcibly displaced over 12 million representing over half of the Middle Eastern nation’s population.

However, the biggest new concern is now South Sudan where renewed conflict and food insecurity is driving the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

At the end of 2016, 3.3 million South Sudanese were displaced, equivalent to one in four people, and the figures have only continued to rise in 2017.

Kelley particularly pointed to the disturbing rise in displaced children around the world. Though children comprise of 30 percent of the world’s population, they disproportionately make up over 50 percent of refugees.

Over 66 percent of South Sudanese refugees alone are children.

Meanwhile, over 75,000 unaccompanied or separated children applied for asylum, a figure that is assumed to be an underestimate.

“I really ask you to pause and think about your own children or your nieces or your nephews and then think about the journeys that refugees take across conflict areas, across deserts, climbing mountains, giving their lives to unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers. And imagine those journeys of children without their parents or without adult accompaniment—then they arrive, and they are alone,” Kelley said.

The majority of displacements continue to be borne by developing countries which host almost 85 percent of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Such refugee influxes cause additional stress to low and middle income countries which already lack the necessary resources for their own citizens.

Uganda, where 37 percent live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, is now the largest refugee-hosting nation in Africa with over 1 million refugees from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi.

Already unable to provide adequate health services and other public goods to its citizens, Uganda’s resources have become increasingly stretched.

Despite the bleak picture and severe imbalance in global responsibility sharing, there has been little action or progress in the issue of displacement.

In 2016, a little over 40 percent of UNHCR’s budget was left unfunded, impeding the agency’s ability to meet refugees’ needs including relief items, shelter, and education.

Refugee plans continue to be underfunded, including South Sudan’s regional refugee response plan which is currently 15 percent funded.

Though 189,000 people were resettled in 2016 and a total of 37 countries are now providing resettlement places, both of which represent increases from the previous year, the number of available resettlement spots are still “disappointingly small” relative to refugee flows, Kelley said, urging for new approaches in displacement response.

In addition to highlighting the need for conflict prevention and mitigation, Kelley noted the need for more resettlement places, opportunities for family reunification, education scholars, and work exchange programmes in order to broaden the possibilities for refugees embarking on dangerous journeys due to consequences beyond their control.

She pointed to the historic New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants as a “positive” and comprehensive response framework to assist both refugees and the communities in which they live.

Adopted in 2016, the Declaration also tasks UNHCR with developing a global compact for safe, regular, and orderly migration which is undergoing negotiations in order for adoption by 2018.

Kelley also looked to action and engagement closer to home by individuals themselves, stating: “We can’t see these figures and sit back and say there’s nothing I can do.”

“We can volunteer, we can contribute, we can donate, we can educate, we can advise ourselves, we can try to build bridges within our own communities that seem to be widening day by day,” she concluded.

World Refugee Day is held every year on June 20th to commemorate, raise awareness of, and mobilize action for the millions of refugees around the world.

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The World Society Needs to Express Greater Solidarity for Refugees Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:02:36 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150978 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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The World Society Needs to Express Greater Solidarity for Refugees Worldwide

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

The world is heading into troubled waters as we are witnessing an unprecedented movement of people – refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) alike – fleeing from misery, poverty and conflicts. The refugee crisis that has swept across Europe and the Middle East is becoming the 21st century’s most protracted crisis with no immediate solution in sight. The world has not witnessed a more complex movement of people since the end of the Second World War; thousands of human beings undertake perilous and treacherous journeys in hope for a better and a safer future. Many of them perish during these hazardous journeys. How can we forget the words the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire who said:

No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

The 2017 World Refugee Day is an important occasion to stand united with millions of refugees around the world. This international commemorative day was announced in 2001 following the adoption of Resolution 55/76 by the United Nations General Assembly on 12 February 2001. It also marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the “1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” Although the traumas of the Second World War reminded the world of the importance of never ignoring the past, the contemporary crisis calls for concerted efforts to resolve the plight of refugees worldwide as a matter of urgency and to address the root causes of mass exodus, as a long-term strategy.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 21 million refugees worldwide. In 2017, there was an estimated 5 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan – countries located in the Arab region – are also considered as source countries of refugees owing to the proliferation of conflicts and the rise of violent extremism.

The majority of these refugees have sought refuge in countries neighbouring their country of origin. In the Middle East, countries in the Arab region are hosting one of the highest number of refugees. More than 1 million people have found refuge in Lebanon, a country that has already welcomed more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Jordan is home to approximately 660,000 refugees, whereas Iraq and Egypt have welcomed around 240,000 and 120,000 refugees respectively despite internal upheavals and civil strife. On top of this, one can also add Turkey that is currently hosting nearly 3 million Syrian refugees.

On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, several European countries have showed some support to address the plights of refugees from the Arab region. Germany and Sweden have taken adequate measures to accommodate the influx of refugees by welcoming 400,000 and 100,000 refugees respectively. Other countries such as France and the Netherlands have also pleaded to relocate refugees entrenched in refugee camps in transit countries such as Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Although a certain degree of solidarity is being expressed by European countries, the number of refugees being granted protection in rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population compared with countries in the Arab region. Despite being signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, many countries have decided to openly defy the acceptance of refugees belonging to certain religious faiths within their societies. Walls have been built in a misconceived attempt to exclude refugees from entering certain countries. The fearmongering and scapegoating of refugees have likewise given rise to a populist tidal wave. Right-wing movements use the contemporary refugee crisis to confer legitimacy on their aspirations to political power through whipping up xenophobia and through conflating Islam with terrorism.

During a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the subject of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” several panellists underscored that these types of practices are contradictory to the core principles of Islam and Christianity preaching love, peace and tolerance towards people in need. Societies should stand united in addressing the rise of populism that is pervasive in many countries.

I would also like to call upon governments in the Middle East and in the West to work jointly to address the protracted refugee crisis. Rich countries have a moral responsibility to provide development assistance to poorer countries to achieve a more equitable burden sharing arrangement for hosting refugees. Countries in the West and in the Middle East need also to step up their joint efforts to eliminate the root causes which have fuelled extremism. Peace and stability in the Middle East need to be restored before refugees can safely return to their home societies. This calls for a radical political change of approach in problem solving in the region.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/achieving-universal-health-coverage-uhc-kenya-innovative-financing/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 15:56:55 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150956 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Kenya through Innovative Financing

Right to health as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and; contribution to economic development as envisioned in Vision 2030. Credit: JACARANDA HEALTH

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

Every year, one million Kenyans are driven below the poverty line by healthcare-related expenditures. Poverty predisposes them to disease and slows all aspects of growth in the economy.

Poor health hobbles economic growth. Noble Laureate in Economics Robert Fogel noted in 1993 that better diets, clothing, housing and quality healthcare all play an important role in generating economic growth. Strengthening healthcare systems to increase access to affordable, appropriate and quality health services in any country is a prerequisite for long-term development and structural transformation.

Africa accounts for a quarter of the world’s disease burden but has less than 5 per cent of the world’s doctors. The continent lags far behind in basic healthcare coverage for services such as immunization, water and sanitation, and family planning. Kenya is no exception.

The new Kenyan Constitution devolved responsibility for primary and secondary healthcare services to the newly demarcated 47 counties, leaving the national government to focus on policy and research.

Kenya’s health financing envelope is progressing gradually but falls short of the 2001 Abuja Declaration, in which nations committed to allocating 15 per cent of their national budget to the health sector. In fact, Kenya is outperformed by some of its neighbours in the national budget allocation to health sector. In fiscal year 2014/15, Uganda allocated 8 per cent of its national budget to the health sector compared to Kenya’s 4 per cent.

Kenya’s allocation has been increasing every fiscal year, rising for instance from about US$178.8 million (Ksh 15.2 billion) in 2001/02 to US$382.2 million (Ksh 34.4 billion) in 2008/09 based on exchange rate then. In the current fiscal year, Kenya allocated around US$597 million (Ksh 60.9 billion) for healthcare services compared to US$591.2 million (Ksh 60.3 billion) for fiscal year 2016/17. This is projected to increase in the medium term to US$606.9 million (Ksh 61.9 billion) and US$614.7 million (Ksh 62.7 billion) for 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively.

The challenges confronting the health sector range from the spread of non-communicable diseases to inadequate funding of health interventions. The devolution of healthcare services, coupled with the Bill of Rights, elicits huge funding demands, making the sustainability of gains made so far in the sector more complex.

In 2015, the international community formally enshrined UHC in Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide development efforts through 2030.

Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support Universal Health Coverage in the country.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Credit: UNDP

In its Vision 2030, Kenya committed to becoming a competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life for all its citizens by 2030. Investing in a quality health delivery system is enshrined in the Vision, an area in which the government has made considerable progress.

Revamping the national health insurance scheme to comprise everyone capable of paying premiums, rather than only those in formal employment has shifted the burden of healthcare costs from the individual to the collective by raising more money for healthcare services.

Nevertheless, four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance. That is why Kenya needs to adopt more innovative ways of financing its healthcare system.

The 2014 World Bank Group’s Kenya Public Expenditure Review considers the private sector a lead in local healthcare markets. This is because it owns 60 per cent of all primary healthcare facilities, while 40 per cent are government-run. Leveraging this strategic position of the private sector, public-private partnerships (PPP) can be institutionalized for financing UHC in Kenya.

One such case in point is the strong PPP established in 2015 by six private sector companies (Philips, Merck Sharp & Dohme-MSD, GlaxoSmithKline-GSK, Safaricom, Kenya Health Care Federation and Huawei) to improve maternal health in historically marginalized counties. This initiative – targeting Mandera, Marsabit, Migori, Isiolo, Lamu and Wajir and spearheaded by the Government of Kenya and the UN – has yielded positive health outcomes. Similar approaches can be adopted for the health system at both national and county levels.

Kenya is known for developing innovative home-grown solutions to challenges. It can easily move towards a cashless economy, which will be critical for driving Kenya’s socio-economic transformation agenda.

For instance, M-pesa was conceived to address the challenge of rural banking but it has also provided a platform for M-health, the use of mobile devices to support the practice of medicine and public health.

Kenya can institute targeted taxation as an innovative financing policy to complement existing financing mechanisms. Partnering with mobile phone service providers and charging a small fee for targeted healthcare initiatives can generate the necessary resources to support UHC in the country.

An estimated US$122.5 million (Ksh 12.5 billion) is transacted daily in the form of mobile money transactions. By contributing roughly one percent on a graduated scale, Kenya can easily raise US$ 1.2 million (Ksh 125 million) daily to finance UHC.

For example UNITAID, an International Drug Purchase Facility for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria is supported mainly (70%) through the airline ticket tax. The airline solidarity contribution is an innovative attempt to gain the benefits of a global tax. Kenya can do the same by charging a small tax at its international airports and border crossings for a ring fenced public health account.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “All roads should lead to universal health coverage.” Credit: UN/DANIEL JOHNSON

There is no one-size-fits-all health financing solution. And Kenya must continuously adapt in the face of rapid technological changes.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new WHO Director-General has said that, “all roads should lead to universal health coverage.” With its technological prowess, a hotspot for innovation, incredible entrepreneurial spirit and enterprise, Kenya must be at the vanguard on the road to universal health care in Africa.

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IFAD’s President Houngbo Calls for Investment in Climate-Smart Agriculture for Poverty-Free Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/ifads-president-houngbo-calls-investment-climate-smart-agriculture-poverty-free-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifads-president-houngbo-calls-investment-climate-smart-agriculture-poverty-free-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/ifads-president-houngbo-calls-investment-climate-smart-agriculture-poverty-free-future/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:26:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150919 Implementing climate-smart agriculture is critical to reduce hunger and poverty, according to International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) new president Gilbert Houngbo. Approximately 20 million are at the brink of starvation. Over 65 million have been forcibly displaced by conflict. One in five people in developing regions live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, […]

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Implementing climate-smart agriculture is critical to reduce hunger and poverty, according to IFAD's new president Gilbert Houngbo

IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo's first official visit to Uganda where he met with small holder farmers in financial saving groups. Credit: IFAD

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

Implementing climate-smart agriculture is critical to reduce hunger and poverty, according to International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) new president Gilbert Houngbo.

Approximately 20 million are at the brink of starvation.

Over 65 million have been forcibly displaced by conflict.

One in five people in developing regions live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, and many risk slipping back into poverty.

A former Prime Minister of Togo, Houngbo entered IFAD’s presidency at a time of extreme suffering around the world. Though the global picture seems bleak, Houngbo remains optimistic and highlights the importance of long-term investments and development in agriculture in rural areas.

Though often neglected, rural areas are home to 80 percent of the world. Such areas are also responsible for most countries’ agriculture, and small farms in particular account for up to 80 percent of food production in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.

Agriculture is therefore often the main route out of poverty and food insecurity for rural people, and focus on it will allow for progress in the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, climate change is among the challenges that stand in the way.

As World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought approaches, IPS spoke to Houngbo briefly about the ambitious goals and increasingly complex challenges to make hunger and poverty things of the past.

Q: How realistic is it to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2030? Is this feasible? If not, why? What are or what could be some of the obstacles in trying to achieve those goals?

A: I’m maybe the wrong person to ask this question because I’m always really optimistic. When we started 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), everybody said that nothing there was realistic. Yet, we know that a lot has been achieved.

I do believe it is doable. Yes, it is very challenging. The point for me is not to say there is no more famine—that can happen as much as it is contained and eradicated quickly and that too is a challenge.

The most important thing for us to increase our chances to achieve the goal by 2030 is to make sure that one, we focus on long-term investment. Second, we also deal with the governance and the leadership dimension to minimize the risk of civil unrest—that’s the nexus of the common famine and the man-made crises.

But the long-term investment and scaling up what has been working really well is important. And I was hoping that with innovation, not only in technology, but among the small-scale or smallholder [farmers] we are focusing on—by adopting much more climate smart agricultural techniques and with innovation, it’s really doable.

Yes, the population is increasing. We need to increase food production by 60 percent by 2050. You have to see that as an opportunity for the smallholders to also increase [yields] and make money. Productivity for me and innovation is really the source.

Q: Would information and communication technologies (ICTs) be helping rural development in terms of food production?

A: Not only food production but also food transformation and access and the linkage to the food system. And to the market at the national level, regional level, or international level.

So we need to also look at agriculture not just as producing food but also business, as a way for the smallholders, for the rural citizens to earn in their daily lives a decent income, so that they don’t feel like they need to move to the city or move out of the country. So we are also talking about a rural transformation.

Q: Do you think advances in ICTs could threaten farmers because of the mechanization of certain jobs?

A: No, I don’t think so.

A couple of year ago a report issued not by IFAD but by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) demonstrated very clearly that yes there will be some jobs that will be lost in some sectors, but also when you think about the jobs that will be created, the net result is a positive. So we should not see that as an issue.

To the contrary, I do not think that commercial farms will ever replace the smallholder farms. In Africa, in Asia today, the smallholders are responsible for 80 percent of the [food] production. What we need to do is to bring technology that will help productivity and that will help with quick access to capital, access to the markets. By bringing that technology, coupled with what I call a rural transformation, then we will make it.

In other words, when you bring the technology here today, in a lot of low-income countries, agriculture contributes 25-35 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) compared to most advanced economies where agriculture will contribute maybe 5 percent or 2 percent of the GDP.

So it’s true that over time, you will also expect the low-income countries’ agricultural contributions to decrease. That’s why people worry that there will be unemployment. But on the contrary, if you are doing the rural transformation instead of being at the production level, they might be at the transformation level or there may also be a vocational training in other domains yet remain at the rural level.

Q: Do you think that the United States’ announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is a setback? How are member states strategizing with IFAD to advance climate mitigation and adaptation?

A: First of all, we need to respect the decisions made by member states, whether it be the U.S. or any other country. I want to be very clear that we have to respect their decisions.

Secondly, our plan integrating climate-smart agriculture in our assistance to rural areas is very high on the agenda of all our member states. Obviously, I am concerned about the possible impact on the Green Climate Fund, and therefore the ability of the smallholders to access that financing.

I hope that one way or the other, the international community will find a way to overcome this new challenge.

Q: Do you have a message for the upcoming World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought?

A: For me, it is important that we start really thinking about the techniques that will help us in embedding climate-smart agriculture.

In Africa, for example, it is really affordable and basic irrigation systems and the use of climate or drought-resistant seeds and so forth—that will really help. But really it’s the irrigation dimension that I would like to encourage, to find ways to make it affordable, particularly in Africa because compared to Asia, Africa is very, very much behind.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a UN specialised agency which invests in rural areas of developing countries to help eradicate poverty and hunger.

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New Alert: Refugee Numbers Outpace Resettlement Spotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/new-alert-refugee-numbers-outpace-resettlement-spots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-alert-refugee-numbers-outpace-resettlement-spots http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/new-alert-refugee-numbers-outpace-resettlement-spots/#respond Tue, 13 Jun 2017 17:49:35 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150868 Against the backdrop of increasing refugee numbers around the globe, fuelled by crisis and insecurity, and an ever-widening gap in places to resettle them, the top United Nations official dealing with refugee issues has called on governments to “step up” and deliver places for refugees in line with the commitments they have made. “The fact […]

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Congolese refugee (Bora, second from right) arrives at Cape Town International Airport with her friends. She is being relocated to France with her children under a UNHCR scheme to resettle the most vulnerable refugees. Credit: UNHCR/James Otaway

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 13 2017 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of increasing refugee numbers around the globe, fuelled by crisis and insecurity, and an ever-widening gap in places to resettle them, the top United Nations official dealing with refugee issues has called on governments to “step up” and deliver places for refugees in line with the commitments they have made.

“The fact is global resettlement needs today far outweigh the places made available by governments by a factor of 13 to one, despite more countries taking part in the programme and an increase in private sector and community involvement,” on June 12 said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the opening of the UN agency’s annual resettlement consultations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Close to 1.2 million refugees need resettling globally, but only 93,200 places in resettlement countries are expected to be available this year – 43 per cent fewer than in 2016. For refugees from sub-Saharan Africa the situation is especially acute – with just 18,000 available places for more than half a million refugees.

“The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was a milestone in global solidarity with refugees and the mainly developing countries which host almost 9 in 10 of them. But true sharing of responsibility requires places for refugees in third countries on a scale in line with the needs. We need urgent action to get there,” Grandi said.

The UN refugees agency’s report UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs in 2018 estimates some 1.2 million refugees need a third country solution in the coming year – a slight increase from the previous year.

This includes more than 510,000 refugees in 34 different countries across Africa, some 280,000 in the Middle East, 302,000 in Europe (mostly in Turkey), over 100,000 in Asia and some 1,800 in the Americas.

The UNHCR report tabled at the Geneva meeting notes that the widening gap between needs and places in 2017 follows a year of several positive achievements in the global resettlement programme.

In 2016, UNHCR submitted more than 162,500 refugees for resettlement – the highest number in 20 years – and more than 125,800 started new lives in third countries. Almost half of the refugees submitted were Syrians, while 44,000 were from sub-Saharan Africa – the highest from this region in almost 15 years.

The number of resettlement states grew to 37 in 2016, with some European governments setting up programmes for the first time and Argentina and Brazil, amongst others, making new commitments to resettle Syrian refugees, the UN agency informs.

“Despite the rhetoric against refugees in some quarters we have also seen an outpouring of good will, with ordinary citizens sponsoring refugees to live in their countries, inviting them into their homes and helping them to find jobs,” Grandi added.

He also noted that the increased engagement of civil society and the private sector embodies the spirit of the New York Declaration, which calls for all parts of society to play a role in the global response to large movements of refugees.

“Resettlement places not only help those refugees who face extreme difficulty in their first country of asylum, but are an important gesture of solidarity with countries hosting large numbers of refugees.”

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was adopted on 19 September 2016 by 193 Member States of the United Nations.

In it governments committed – amongst other objectives – to work on increasing resettlement places and other legal pathways for admission of refugees on a scale that would match the annual resettlement needs identified by UNHCR.

Refugees in need of resettlement are those people identified by UNHCR as having particular problems in the countries where they have sought refuge because their life, liberty, safety, health or other fundamental rights are at risk.

We need urgent action to get there,” he underscored.

“Despite the rhetoric against refugees in some quarters we have also seen an outpouring of good will, with ordinary citizens sponsoring refugees to live in their countries, inviting them into their homes and helping them to find jobs,” Grandi added, urging all partners to support ways to provide additional places for refugees.

“Resettlement places not only help those refugees who face extreme difficulty in their first country of asylum, but are an important gesture of solidarity with countries hosting large numbers of refugees,” he said.

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Child Labor in the Arab Region Does Not Belong to the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 19:08:57 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150860 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Today marks the 2017 World Day against Child Labor to reaffirm the goal to eliminate all forms of child labor. This year’s annual theme highlights a subject that is often neglected, namely the importance of addressing child labor in conflict areas and in disaster settings.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The United Nations (UN) estimates that approximately 1.5 billion people live in conflict areas around the world. It is likewise projected that around 200 million people are affected annually by disasters whether related to man-made environmental devastations, to natural hazards or to other types of catastrophes.

Out of these figures, 168 million children worldwide are affected by child labor in conflict and in disaster settings. Asia and the Pacific has the highest incidence with approximately 78 million (9.3%) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 59 million (21%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 13 million (8.8%). 9.2 million children – 8.4% of the total figures – are engaged in child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Child labor is prohibited by several legal conventions. ILO Convention No. 182 often referred to as the “Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention” provides important guidelines on the worst types of child labor that need to be prohibited and eliminated by States. ILO Convention No. 138 entitled “Minimum Age Convention” likewise upholds in Article 7 that children at an early age should not undertake employment considered “to be harmful to their health or development.”

Although the incidence of child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa is lower than in other parts of the world, it remains a major challenge for many countries in the Arab region owing to the proliferation of conflicts.

The war in Syria is a major humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century. Several hundred thousand civilians have died, whereas it is estimated that approximately 7.6 million people are internally displaced and 4.8 million are refugees. A figure that is often left unaddressed is the incidence of child labor involving Syrian refugee and displaced children. According to several think-thanks, these children perform hazardous work and hard labor under harsh and unsustainable working conditions. Organized crime groups exploit children for financial gains. Child labor has now reached a disturbing level among Syrian refugee children.

Yemen has also witnessed the growth of child labor owing to the war that is unfolding in the country. According to a joint UNHCR-IOM press release issued in February 2017, it was concluded that the deteriorating situation in Yemen has pushed children into “danger and adversity” including child labor and hazardous work. Other Arab countries facing turmoil and civil war – such as Libya and Iraq – also experience a resurgence of child labor as a result of the disintegration and the fragmentation of these societies.

Despite this troubling context, there is hope in the horizon. I am pleased that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the importance of addressing and of ending child labor. SDG 8.7 stipulates the need to end child labor “in all its forms” by 2025. I invite all Arab states to work jointly towards the realization of this imperative goal by 2030. Arab States have showed great dedication and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); I remain convinced that similar progress will be realized vis-à-vis the SDGs.

The deteriorating security situation and the growing threat of famine throw societies into a situation of despair and instability. The lack of employment, decent work and poverty provide fertile ground for child labor to prosper as the only hope for economically disadvantaged families is to send their children – in particular girls – to engage in child labor. To reverse this trend, war-torn societies need to be allowed to return to a modicum of peace and stability guaranteeing families safe living conditions and peaceful prospects. The return to peace is the first step towards the full elimination of child labor.

Lastly, despite a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced persons to Europe, the heaviest burden by far is borne by Muslim societies in neighbouring countries bordering war-torn countries of departure of refugees and other migrants. It is therefore important to step up the efforts of the international community to provide adequate support and assistance to such countries welcoming a high percentage of migrants and refugees including children in relation to their own population.

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Heavy Toll of Disrupted Farming, Higher Prices and Displaced Livelihoodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/heavy-toll-of-disrupted-farming-higher-prices-and-displaced-livelihoods/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 16:09:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150849 Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report. Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new […]

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Pastoralists in Somalia. Actions to promote food security can help crisis-prevention, mitigate its impacts and promote post-crisis recovery and healing. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report.

Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new edition of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

Civil conflict continues to be a main driver of severe food insecurity, having triggered famine conditions in South Sudan and put populations in Yemen and northern Nigeria at high risk of localised famine, it informs, adding that adverse weather conditions are exacerbating the threat of famine in Somalia.

Refugees from civil strife in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Central African Republic are putting additional pressure on local food supplies in host communities, the report notes, while providing detailed information the following situation in a group of countries.

Some 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan, where maize and sorghum prices are now four times higher than in April 2016.

In Somalia, about 3.2 million people are in need of food and agricultural emergency assistance, while in Yemen the figure is as high as 17 million.

In northern Nigeria, disruption caused by the conflict has left 7.1 million people facing acute food insecurity in the affected areas, with even more deemed to be in less dire but still “stressed” conditions.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine. Credit: FAO

A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine. Credit: FAO



Southern Africa Rebounds, East Africa Parched

While worldwide cereal output is near record levels, production outcomes are mixed across the globe. South America is expected to post strong increases, led by Brazil and Argentina, according to the new report.

Regional production in Southern Africa is expected to jump by almost 45 per cent compared to 2016 when crops were affected by El Niño, with record maize harvests forecast in South Africa and Zambia, FAO reports.

This should help reducing food insecurity in several countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The overall food supply situation in the Sahel region is also satisfactory after two consecutive years of bumper crops, the report notes.

East Africa, however, has suffered from insufficient rainfall at the start of the 2017 season, fall armyworm infestations and local conflicts, adds the report.

“As a result, a record 26.5 million people in the sub-region are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and the situation could be aggravated further in the coming months as the lean season peaks. An estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions.”

Moreover, the UN specialised agency informs that cereal domestic prices reached exceptionally high levels in May, with the local cost of maize jumping by as much as 65 per cent this year in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the report noted.

A severe drought in Sri Lanka, followed by heavy rains and local flooding in late May, will likely reduce the country’s paddy production by nearly a third compared to the average; a joint FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission was fielded in March 2017 to assess the drought impact and the results are expected to be released next week.

Cereal output in the 54 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries is set to rise by 1.3 per cent this year to 480 million tonnes, due to a strong performance in India and the rebound in Southern African countries, according to FAO’s forecasts.

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This Is the Nation of 170 Million Enslaved Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/this-is-the-nation-of-170-million-enslaved-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=this-is-the-nation-of-170-million-enslaved-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/this-is-the-nation-of-170-million-enslaved-children/#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 03:06:56 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150844 Globally over 1.5 billion people live in countries that are affected by conflict, violence and fragility. Meantime, around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year—a third of them are children. And a significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflict and disaster. These are […]

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Credit: UN News Centre

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Globally over 1.5 billion people live in countries that are affected by conflict, violence and fragility. Meantime, around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year—a third of them are children. And a significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflict and disaster. These are the facts. Up to you to reflect on the immediate future of humankind.

Conflicts and disasters have a devastating impact on people’s lives, the United Nations reminds.

“They kill, maim, injure, force people to flee their homes, destroy livelihoods, push people into poverty and starvation and trap people in situations where their basic human rights are violated.”

Of this total of 168 million children victims of modern slavery, about 100 million boys and 68 million girls.

Forced labour is estimated to generate around 150 billion dollars a year in illegal profits.

Credit: Unicef.ca, Canada

Credit: Unicef.ca, Canada

Amid such a huge human tragedy, children are often the first to suffer as schools are destroyed and basic services are disrupted, the world body reports.

“Many children are internally displaced or become refugees in other countries, and are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and child labour. Ultimately, millions of children are pushed into child labour by conflicts and disasters.”

This why on the occasion of the 2017 World Day Against Child Labour, marked June 12, the UN focuses on the impact of conflicts and disasters on child labour.

“Urgent action is needed to tackle child labour in areas affected by conflict and disaster. If the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Target 8.7 which aims to “eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour” is to be achieved by 2030.”

The UN stresses the need to intensify and accelerate action to end child labour, including in areas affected by conflict and disasters. “And we need to do it together.”

Child Labour No More by 2025?

Credit: Unicefusa.org

Credit: Unicefusa.org

As the world strives to achieve the elimination of child labour by 2025, on this World Day Against Child Labour, says the International Labour Organization (ILO), “let’s join forces to end child labour in areas affected by conflict and disaster!”

Child labour and forced labour in conflicts and humanitarian settings will be discussed at the IV Global Conference on Child Labour (Buenos Aires, 14-16 November 2017).

For its part, the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) warns that child labour deprives children of their right to go to school, exposes them to violence, and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty.

“Yet, this serious violation of human rights is not inevitable. Child labour is preventable through integrated approaches that simultaneously address poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education and mobilise public support for respecting children’s rights.”

11 Per Cent of World’s Children

UNICEF also reminds that, worldwide, about 168 million children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in child labour, accounting for almost 11 per cent of all children.

The most recent figures, based on statistical evidence from UNICEF, ILO and the World Bank, show a decline of about one third since 2000.

While that is positive news, progress is far too slow, the UN specialised agency reports, adding that the continued persistence of child labour poses a threat not only to the health and well being of children, but also to national economies and the achievement of global development goals.

Child labour is defined as work for which the child is too young – i.e., work done below the required minimum age.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises every child’s right, “to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education,” or that is likely to harm the child’s health or, “physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”²

Other international instruments further define a child’s right to be protected from the “worst forms of child labour,” including recruitment in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking.

The lives and futures of millions of children are in jeopardy, UNICEF warns. “We have a choice: Invest in the most excluded children now or risk a more divided and unfair world.”

“Every child has the right to a fair chance in life. But around the world, millions of children are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage that endangers their futures – and the future of their societies.”

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Aggression against children in the Arab region needs to come to an endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end/#respond Sun, 04 Jun 2017 15:35:15 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150726 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 4 2017 (IPS)

On 20 February 1997, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 51/77 to promote the rights of children. This Resolution was considered a milestone in promoting and advancing the right of children in conflict and wars.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

The resolution was also seen as a further acknowledgement of the growing number of States that had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child that entered into force on 2 September 1990. To this day only one State has not yet ratified this seminal Convention.

Despite the broad-based ratification of the Convention, children continue to bear the burden of conflicts and calamities. They are indiscriminately targeted by belligerents owing to their vulnerability and physical weakness. According to the United Nations more than 250 million children live in countries affected by conflict.

The 2017 International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression is therefore an important opportunity to recognise the challenges and constraints children experience in the context of wars and conflicts. This day is also celebrated in commemoration of Resolution 51/77 that marked a new era in the joint commitments taken by the Member States of the United Nations (UN) to accelerate the promotion and advancement of the rights of children.

Despite the existing consensus that exists between States, there are various cases of contemporary conflicts that have indiscriminately targeted children and the Arab region is no exception.

In December 2016, UNICEF reported that approximately 2.2 million children in Yemen – out of 3.3 million people – face grave risk of hunger and malnutrition owing to the civil war in Yemen. From the period of 2015 – 2017, civil society and donor governments – in collaboration with its international partners such as WHO, WFP, UNICEF and ICRC – have allocated aid and relief assistance to the hunger-stricken population in Yemen. This has enabled several million children to benefit from the joint efforts of regional and international actors to address the severe food shortage.

The civil war in Syria – also known as the 21st century’s worst humanitarian disaster – is yet another example of a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that indiscriminately targets children. According to UNICEF, 5.8 million children in Syria are in need of help, 2.8 million children are located in conflicts areas, 281,000 living under siege whereas 2.3 million children have fled the country.

This is the gripping reality affecting children in the Arab region. They are not being spared from the adverse impacts of wars and conflicts. They are seen as the easiest victims to target. The international community needs to step up their efforts to provide the necessary aid support to the Yemeni and Syrian civilian populations.

In order to protect children from abuse, exploitation and the intensifying conflicts, peace needs to be given a chance. The conflicts in the Middle East need to come to an end through diplomacy.

It is likewise important that justice triumph in cases where abuses against children are documented. Impunity should not become the norm of societies recovering from wars and conflicts. Peacebuilding and transitional justice require that crimes against humanity be addressed in a transparent and objective manner. Perpetrators who have committed crimes against children need to be brought to justice. They should stand trial for their heinous and barbaric crimes inflicted on civilian populations.

In concluding this statement, I would also like to underscore the importance of education as a peacebuilding measure. On 12 May, I chaired a panel debate at the United Nations Office in Geneva entitled “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights through education.” The objective of this panel debate was to address the role of education in instilling a culture of peace and tolerance among children in post-conflict environments. The lessons learned from the case studies of Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Colombia underlined the potential of education in enabling children to overcome hostile mindsets – sometime resulting from family backgrounds – and to understand that differences need not beget division but can be an opportunity to celebrate diversity. Many of these countries have taken a number of initiatives in creating supportive environments to facilitate the socializing of children and their peaceful reintegration in society.

No children in the world should face conflict and war. They should spend their childhood and youth in harmony and in peaceful surroundings. Aggression inflicted on children in the Arab region and elsewhere in the world needs to come to an immediate end.

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AIDS Pandemic Far From Over: 37 Million Living with HIV Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aids-pandemic-far-from-over-37-million-living-with-hiv-globally/#respond Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:37:46 +0000 Amina Mohammed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150714 Amina J. Mohammed is UN Deputy Secretary-General who addressed the General Assembly’s Annual AIDS Review meeting.

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Amina J. Mohammed is UN Deputy Secretary-General who addressed the General Assembly’s Annual AIDS Review meeting.

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2017 (IPS)

During the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals it was clear to me how relevant and innovative the approach to ending AIDS had been and how important it would continue to be.

Amina J. Mohammed

Amina J. Mohammed

Achieving our aims on AIDS is interlinked and embedded within the broader 2030 Agenda. Both are grounded in equity, human rights and a promise to leave no one behind.

In June 2016, Member States adopted the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, the AIDS pandemic is far from over.

UNAIDS estimates that more than 36.7 million people are living with HIV globally.

While more than 18 million are now on life-saving treatment, this is just half of those who need it, and there is no decline in the number of new infections each year.

People living with HIV who are on treatment can now expect the same life expectancy as someone who is not infected.

That is why a life-cycle approach to HIV is so important, to ensure that people have access to the services they need at every stage of life.

The world has the scientific knowledge and experience to reach people with HIV options tailored to the realities of their lives.

I am happy to report that, today, more babies than ever are being born free from HIV.

Now we need to do a better job of reaching young women and adolescent girls.

This is particularly true for sub-Saharan Africa, where adolescent girls account for three out of four new HIV infections among 15 to 19-year-olds.

Women’s and girls’ heightened vulnerability to HIV is intimately linked to entrenched gender-based inequalities and harmful social attitudes.

We also need to ensure a more integrated approach to HIV programme delivery.

In particular, we need to integrate HIV, sexual and reproductive health programmes, including family planning.

Just as we must reach young women, we have to make it easier for other key populations to access health services.

Injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men are 10-24 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population. Ending AIDS fits squarely within the 2030 Agenda.

The global commitments we have made to eliminate gender inequalities, to promote, protect, respect and fulfil all human rights, and to achieve universal health coverage, mutually reinforce efforts to eradicate AIDS.

The AIDS response has led the way for evidence-based policy and programming. I hope the voluntary national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July will reflect the lessons learned at the national level in responding to AIDS.

I urge Member States to heed UNAIDS’ call for a grand prevention coalition that stimulates action across the five pillars of HIV prevention. We still need a further $7 billion dollars to reach our targets for preventing and treating HIV.

This translates to about 50 cents per person per year globally between now and 2030. This small per capita increase in investment could generate significant returns — an additional 21.7 million HIV infections prevented and 8.8 million AIDS-related deaths averted.

The economic benefits of such an intervention would generate an 8 to 1 return on investment due to better health and reduced mortality.

I am proud to see how the United Nations and UNAIDS, under the leadership of its Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibé, are committed to finding new and better approaches to end this epidemic.

I hope to see our investment in ending the AIDS epidemic and saving lives translate into political and financial investment in UNAIDS. This entity embodies many of the critical elements that we are seeking to incorporate into our broader UN reform efforts.

These include establishing a culture of accountability and strong performance management, with a focus on delivery rather than process and on people rather than bureaucracy.

In conclusion, let me emphasize the importance of grounding success at the country and community levels.

Let us always approach political decisions and meetings such as this with communities in mind.

In recognizing the importance of community-driven solutions and the global commitment to people-centred systems for health, I encourage you to listen closely to what communities need and have to say.

If we do that, we can end AIDS.

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A UN of the Future to Effectively Serve all Member Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 14:22:44 +0000 Antonio Guterres SG http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150683 In a letter to Permanent Representatives of 193 member states, the Secretary-General details his plan for a revitalization of the UN system.

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In a letter to Permanent Representatives of 193 member states, the Secretary-General details his plan for a revitalization of the UN system.

By Secretary-General António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Through a series of recent global agreements on sustainable development, climate change, sustaining peace, disaster risk reduction, and financing for development, Member States have provided a broad vision of the future they want. I am committed to advancing meaningful reforms to adapt the United Nations to this complex world, so that it can effectively serve all of its Member States in achieving that future and managing shared challenges and opportunities along the way.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

As part of a broader effort to engage with Member States to strengthen the work of the United Nations, I wanted to provide you with a brief update of initiatives and reform processes under way to enhance our shared goal: making our Organization more effective and responsive to those we serve.

As many of you have stressed, there is a profound need for greater collaboration across the pillars of peace and security, development and human rights.

The Executive Committee, which I established in January, combines the expertise of senior managers and staff of many departments, field operations and duty stations, to provide strategic advice in a more holistic manner.

At that same time, I also decided to co-locate the regional desks of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs to enable greater coordination of our peace and security work. This initiative involves much more than the sharing of space. It is about pooling our perspectives more dynamically, to overcome silos and fragmentation and to generate improved policies and products.

In January, we strengthened whistle-blower protection to boost openness, transparency and fairness. Enhanced safeguards are now available for individuals who rep01i misconduct or cooperate with duly authorized audits or investigations.

I have directed an internal working group to examine how these efforts could be further expanded to cover consultants and individual contractors. The working group will submit its recommendations to me by 30 June 2017.

In March, based on the recommendations of a task force that I established in January, I launched a new strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system. This effort puts the rights and dignity of victims first; aims to end impunity for those guilty of crimes and abuses; and calls on us to share best practices and draw on the knowledge of external pa1tners such as civil society, local communities and experts.

In April, I submitted my proposals to the General Assembly for creating a new office of counter-terrorism to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General, who would serve as the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and Executive Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre.

To advance our commitment to equal rights and the empowerment of women, I asked my Senior Adviser on Policy to lead a Gender Parity Task Force to develop a strategy for the United Nations system. The first draft of the strategy was submitted to the Senior Management Group in April and I have consulted further with the United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination. We will consult with Member States and staff in the coming weeks. I plan to submit the final strategy to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

The Secretariat has also embarked on a process of comprehensive reforms on inter-linked tracks.

In January, I established an Internal Review Team (IRT), led by Mr. Tatmat Samuel, to study proposals for change in the peace and security architecture of the Secretariat. The Team is drawing on recent major reviews and consulting widely with experts across the world. l will review preliminary options in June and submit a detailed proposal to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

With respect to development, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review resolution provides us with a strong mandate to propose realignments to the United Nations development system so that it can support Member States in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I have asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead the review to develop a more cohesive and integrated system, with enhanced leadership at all levels, more effectiveness on the ground and greater accountability for results. A first report will be issued by June 2017 and a second towards the end of2017.

We need global responses to today’s challenges that address the root causes of conflict and integrate peace, sustainable development and human rights. To this end, my Senior Adviser on Policy is mapping the prevention capacities of the United Nations system with a view to creating a platform that enables us to make the best use of our many assets. This platform will not be a new structure, but rather a new and more effective way of working together to apply all of our tools in a timely way. My fo1thcoming report on Sustaining Peace represents an oppo11unity to engage with Member States on this idea. In the meantime, I attach my broad vision of prevention for your reflection.

Our efforts to implement this ambitious reform agenda rest on ensuring that we simplify procedures, decentralize decision-making and move towards ever greater transparency and accountability. The Chef de Cabinet is overseeing the management reform track. In April, I appointed an Internal Review Team on management reform, led by Ms. Alicia Barcena and Mr. Atul Khare.

Throughout this process, I am committed to continuing to engage in extensive consultations with Member States. To further this effort, my Chef de Cabinet, supported by the IRT on management reform, will hold informal brainstorming sessions with Member States. A list of questions will be circulated to facilitate these sessions. I also plan to hold a retreat in mid-July with Member States to informally consult on the initial findings of the IRT on management reform.

By the end of May, the IRT, with the assistance of departments, offices and operations in the field, will prepare an action plan for immediate measures that the Secretariat could undertake to streamline internal procedures and expedite decision-making. I will submit a detailed report on management reform to the General Assembly for consideration at its seventy-second session.

The work of the various reform tracks will be aligned within my Executive Office, under the guidance of the Chef de Cabinet. Just as the broad work of the United Nations must be more integrated, so must the reform workstreams link up and be mutually reinforcing.

Once again, I thank you for your ideas and inputs to further strengthen these essential efforts and advance our common goals. I count on the continued support of Member States and staff as we embark on this shared journey of reforming and renewing our United Nations.

THE VISION OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON PREVENTION

With profound gratitude and humility, I took up the helm of the UN system at a time of great aspirations as well as great challenges. While the universal and comprehensive agenda for sustainable development and sustaining peace pledged to “leave no one behind”, the goals of peaceful coexistence and development are at risk in many countries. The fundamental norms and values of the United Nations are being disregarded. Millions flee in search of safer, better lives, even as doors are closing in many places. Brutal and violent conflicts continue to rage in many corners of the world, taking countless lives and displacing millions more. For many others, sustainable development seems distant. Terrorism and violent extremism are affecting all regions of the world. Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and their destructive powers more intense.

How can the United Nations better help countries to avoid such crises and build resilient societies that can deliver on the promise to leave no one behind? How can we preserve the norms that safeguard humanity? How can we win back the trust of “we the peoples”?

By prevention, I mean doing everything we can to help countries to avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development. I mean rededicating ourselves to the UN Charter and the mandate of Agenda 2030 and ensuring that our assistance goes to those who need it the most. Prevention should permeate everything we do. It should cut across all pillars of the UN’s work, and unite us for more effective delivery.

Preventing human suffering and ensuring progress on the SDGs are primarily the responsibility of Member States. But the United Nations has a vital supp01ting role. We need to become much better at it, building trust with Member States and all stakeholders. see us doing this in four ways: A surge in preventive diplomacy; Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention; Strengthening partnerships; and Reforms to overcome fragmentation and consolidate our capacities to meet the prevention challenge.

Nobody is winning today’s wars. I appeal to all leaders, parties and those with influence to bring these burning conflicts to an end. I and my peace envoys are fully engaged in support of the national and regional actors. But wars can only be ended by the actions of the direct parties and their supporters to forge political solutions and tackle the root causes. Meanwhile, we must make conce1ted efforts to prevent new conflicts from flaring up. This means promptly identifying and responding to early signs of tension, using all tools available.

As part of our surge in preventive diplomacy, I am strengthening the UN’s mediation and facilitation capacity in the broadest terms, enhancing leadership, resources and partnerships. To make prevention effective, dialogue towards peace needs to be comprehensive. We thus need to pay attention to the local, national, regional and international levels. Accountability is a critical element in resolving conflict and addressing root causes to prevent conflict. I am ready to make greater use of my powers under the Charter, including with respect to early warning and good offices.

Integral to my view of prevention is inclusion and women’s empowerment in their fullest sense. We need more women at the table at all levels. This effort starts at home and I have taken steps to advance gender parity at the UN and in all our activities. We will further strengthen our support to integrate gender perspectives in mediation efforts, and we will be quickly expanding the pool of qualified women leaders to serve as my envoys or as mediation specialists.

Based on these parameters, I will appoint a High Level Advisory Group to provide recommendations on how to further enhance our work in mediation.

Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention

The best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis is to ensure they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development, including concerted climate action and management of mass migration. Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are an essential part of humanity’s universal blueprint for the future.

For all countries, addressing inequalities, strengthening institutions and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis. We need to invest more to help countries build strong and inclusive institutions and resilient communities. Our partnership with the World Bank and regional development banks will be critical. Development is the key to prevention. Far from diverting resources or attention away from development, an effective and broad focus on prevention will generate more investment and concerted efforts to achieve the SDGs.

For countries at particular risk of or recovering from conflict, the resolutions on Sustaining Peace and the Women, Peace and Security agenda provide additional tools adapted to their needs. The SDGs and Sustaining Peace are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Sustainable development underpins peace, and sustained peace enables sustainable development. Implementation of both agendas will ensure that stable societies prosper and fragile societies become resilient and can manage risks and shocks effectively.

Societies are more resilient when they uphold the full breadth of human rights of all, gender equality and women’s empowerment, the rile-of-law, inclusion and diversity as well as nurture their youth and children. These norms make for tolerant and vibrant societies where diversity is celebrated. Conversely, it is often the systematic undermining of these norms that point to risks of crisis. Sovereignty is strengthened when people, their dignity and rights are fully protected and respected. Working in support of Member States, our prevention work seeks to shore up national and local institutions and capacities to detect and avert looming crises, sustain peace and achieve sustainable development.

We must recognize that the UN is not the only actor, and in many cases not even the most important actor. The ultimate goal is not to expand our remit but to make a real difference for people, especially the most vulnerable. As the anchor of multilateral ism with universal membership, the UN has unparalleled capacity to convene and mobilize. The UN system is most impactful when truly enabling others.

This means building meaningful partnerships with the widest array of Governments, regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector, always being truthful to our mission as the guardian of the international norms that the Organization has generated over the past seven decades.

The most recent example of our resolve to strengthen our partnerships to prevent conflict and sustain peace was the signing of the Joint United Nations African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security on 19 April 2017.

We cannot meet the prevention challenge with the status quo. The UN needs to be much more united in its thinking and in its action, putting people at the centre of its work. People do not experience problems and crises in silos. They question why our support comes from so many different actors with different plans and messages, burdening their already limited systems and capacities.

We need to bring together the capacities of diverse actors in the Organization in support of people and countries in managing risks, building resilience against shocks and ave1ting outbreaks of crisis. This means the horizontal joining-up of all pillars of the UN’s work- peace and security, development, human rights- as well as vertical integration in each from prevention to conflict resolution, from peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development.

I have begun this with my own office and decision-making. The Executive Office has been restructured for better strategic analysis, coordination and planning across all pillars; and the Executive Committee of the Secretariat has been established and is meeting weekly for timely decision-making and action.

I have also set up an Internal Review Team to provide options on the peace and security architecture. My report on Sustaining Peace will be an opportunity to further elaborate the steps I have taken or propose. The architecture will be strengthened with the addition of the Office of Counter-Terrorism as proposed to the General Assembly, including to ensure that the work on preventing violent extremism is rooted in the Global CT Strategy.

Through the QCPR resolution, Member States have encouraged me to propose bold measures to reform the UN development system. Under the leadership of the DSG, this work is well underway so as to spell out the needed reforms by the end of this year as requested by the GA, with my first set of proposals in June 2017.

To underpin our ability to implement these reforms, I have also launched a process for significant management reform to streamline our processes and rules, especially on budget, human resources and procurement. The reforms require that the system becomes much more nimble, efficient and cost-effective. A crucial part of this work is my gender parity initiative, a new whistle-blower policy and my new approach to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse committed under the UN flag.

The outcome of these reforms will enable an integrated prevention platform. This is not a new entity or structure but an integrated way of thinking and acting, harnessing the diverse prevention tools and capacities across the system, at HQ and in the field, in support of Member States. It will build upon the Human Rights Up Front initiative, enhance our work on the ground, and strengthen the accountability of each actor to collective results.

It will be underpinned by a consolidated arrangement for financing prevention so that existing and new funding streams are most effectively utilized. Effective public outreach and communication will be crucial to our success as we go forward along this path. In an information saturated world of a continuously expanding media landscape, we will need to be much more innovative and strategic in telling our story.

In all of these endeavours, building trust with Member States, our staff and all stakeholders is crucial to success. This means I and other leaders in the system will actively reach out to consult, listen and bring in fresh ideas.

I have been humbled by the confidence placed in me by all Member States during the selection process. I wilI rely on the same confidence, the same trust to work together to steer our Organization through the reforms and reinstate prevention at the core of our everyday work.

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The Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 05:18:46 +0000 Stephen O Brien http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150668 Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

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Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

By Stephen O’Brien*
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The cruel conflict in Syria continues to tear families apart, inflicts brutal suffering on the innocent, and leaves them pleading for protection and justice. I readily acknowledge that there have been reports of a significant drop in violence in some areas of the country, but such steps forward continue to be counter-weighted by the reality of a conflict that continues to devastate the civilian population.

Stephen O’Brien

Stephen O’Brien

Just last week, 30 children and women were gravely injured in a heinous attack by ISIL on besieged neighbourhoods in Deir ez-Zor as they were lining up for water. In addition, more than a hundred civilians, many of them women and children, have fallen victim, in recent weeks, to the escalating counter-ISIL airstrikes, particularly in the north-eastern governorates of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

Millions more are in the line of fire, facing crushing poverty and alarming physical danger. Tens of thousands of children have been killed, and for those who have survived till today, the outlook remains bleak. Children have been forcibly detained, they have been tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.

Close to seven million children in Syria live in poverty. Nearly 1.75 million children remain out of school and another 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. 7,400 schools – one in three across the country – have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible. And even if the schools were intact, many would be unable to open, with almost one quarter of the country’s teaching personnel no longer at their posts.

Outside Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own; they have become stateless, abandoned by the world but for the generosity of neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Egypt.

How are these children meant to function as adults? What future do these children have – illiterate, orphaned, starved, traumatized and maimed? What future does a country have when its next generation is a lost generation? For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating.

Astana produced a promising step: a memorandum between the three guarantors – Iran, Russia and Turkey – on the creation of four de-escalation areas; a memorandum that stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that fighting must significantly decrease and unhindered humanitarian access be enabled to these four areas – areas which essentially encompass all of the besieged locations except for those in Damascus and Deir ez-Zor.

That said, too many agreements that could have saved lives and reduced suffering have failed in the past. Let me therefore be clear: this agreement simply has to succeed. We owe it to the 2.6 million people that we estimate to be in these four de-escalation areas.

We – the United Nations – stand ready to sit with all parties involved to make it a workable agreement – one that will make a tangible difference to civilians on the ground; one that facilitates the delivery of life-saving assistance based on the UN’s own needs assessments without constant interference, reduced beneficiary numbers, the removal of medical and other essential items out of spite, bureaucratic restrictions and procedural and physical roadblocks.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that – all over Syria – millions of people, in locations inside and outside the four de-escalation areas, continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives. We must not stand silent while violence flares up elsewhere in the country and parties continue to use starvation, fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as methods of war.

As you all know, in recent months, restricted access and increased attacks resulted in a number of so-called ‘surrender’ or ‘evacuation’ agreements in communities such as Al-Tal, Darraya, Moadamiyeh, Eastern Aleppo, Khan al-Shieh, Wadi Barada, and the four towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya. In the last few weeks, thousands more have been moved from the besieged neighbourhoods of Barzeh and Qaboun (Damascus) and the besieged Al Wa’er neighbourhood in Homs city to Idlib and Jarablus city in rural Aleppo.

These are evacuations that have followed years of intense airstrikes, shelling and sniping. The tactics are all too obvious: make life intolerable and make death likely; push people to choose between starvation and death or fleeing on green buses to locations that are just as unsafe.

There needs to be accountability for these actions; for these ‘starve and surrender tactics’ – a monstrous form of cruelty to impose upon a civilian population. We have seen this happen numerous times already – as I said, in Homs, Moadamiyeh, Al Waer, and elsewhere. In fact, Darayya and Zabadani are already devoid of their civilian population. And this may very well be the fate of hundreds of thousands more people still trapped in besieged locations across the country.

Evacuations are, however, only the beginning of a new set of challenges for both those who are forced to leave their homes, and host communities. Traveling mostly to Idleb and northern rural Aleppo, those displaced now find themselves in an increasingly precarious environment. The capacity in these areas to support additional displacement is reaching its limit.

In Idleb alone, there are over 900,000 displaced people, placing significant strain on local communities and resources. While the situation has quietened since the memorandum on de-escalation was signed, any increase in fighting – attacks by the Government of Syria, or fighting among groups inside of Idelb – would be catastrophic for these already stressed communities.

In fact, in many corners of the country, the protection space is shrinking, humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising – not due to insecurity or poor infrastructure, but by increasingly strict limitations by local authorities, non-State armed groups, as well as terrorist organizations, and the actions of some neighbouring countries.

I call on members of the Security Council to use their influence to see that these actors respect humanitarian principles and allow the unfettered delivery of aid. We are also greatly concerned at cross-border restrictions and regulatory impediments imposed on the NGO community operating in northern Syria and are troubled by increasing reports indicating that IDPs fleeing Raqqa Governorate are being kept for prolonged periods in screening camps and subjected to restrictions on their movement by the self-proclaimed Democratic Self-Administration in northeastern Syria.

We need to see a step-change in access to the increasingly dire situation in northeastern Syria. Rather than restrictions, we need an opening of space to respond. With some 100,000 people displaced due to fighting around Raqqa since April, access is needed now through every possible modality.

We need to see restrictions eased for those operating in the area. We need to see increased cross-border and cross-line access for humanitarian assistance into the area, including land access from Aleppo. I call on all with influence over the parties involved to act now. Further delays or restrictions will only result in the continued suffering and the death of civilians.

For cross-line inter-agency convoys, administrative delays on the part of the Syrian Government in the approval of facilitation letters and convoy plans continue to hamper our efforts. Every month, thousands of facilitation letters are readily signed for convoys headed to Government-controlled areas.

Yet, in cross-line areas, we have only been able to secure facilitation letters for seven convoys under the April/May access plan, allowing us to reach 266,750 people in need. This is out of a million people requested under the bi-monthly plan. And as a result, we are essentially down to one cross-line convoy per week to reach those who are most in need, with only one besieged location – namely Duma in eastern Ghouta – reached by road during the April/May period.

Compared to last year, when we deployed 50 cross-line convoys through May, today we stand at 18 cross-line convoys in 2017. In addition, the ICRC and the SARC also delivered three cross-line convoys without the UN, reaching 136,500 people in hard-to-reach areas during this period as well.

Moreover, the removal of life-saving medicines and medical supplies such as surgical kits, midwifery kits, and emergency kits has continued unabated, with nearly 100,000 medical supplies refused or removed from convoys since the beginning of the year. In addition, and as you all know, attacks on hospitals and other health facilities – as highlighted by the Secretary-General in the open debate last week on the Protection of Civilians – have become commonplace in Syria – about 20 per month between January and April this year, an average of one attack every 36 hours, turning Syrian hospitals into death traps.

These attacks and restrictions are not only violations of international law and Council resolutions, they are deliberate and cowardly acts aimed at those – the sick, the injured, the infirm, unborn children, the elderly, pregnant women, young children – who are least able to protect themselves and are most in need of care and assistance.

The denial and delay of access, particularly to those in besieged locations, is a political calculation and a military tactic; this much is clear in Syria. We may speak about the practical elements of delay and denial – facilitation letters, inspections, checkpoints – but these are simply the manifestation of a mindset and approach by the Government of Syria to use civilian suffering as a tactic of war.

We have seen that when political will exists, the humanitarian imperative to deliver based on assessed need is possible. Facilitation letters are signed, inspectors do not remove items, and checkpoints allow safe passage. I call on the Security Council to take all necessary steps to see that the will to place humanitarian aid delivery in its rightful position – outside of any military or political calculations and totally impartially – is restored.

The delivery of aid is not an ask, but is a demand and the law and its denial, refusal or frustration is and must be a red line not to be crossed. Denial and delays of assistance contravene resolutions of the Council and are against international humanitarian law. They must end. I call on this Council to act to see its resolutions implemented. Any prevarication will result in further death and suffering of civilians. Humanitarian relief cannot be viewed as an optional element to be occasionally provided. It must go where it is needed, when it is needed, not where it is allowed and when it is convenient.

As I have said numerous times before, we remain committed and ready to deliver aid – through all possible modalities – for people in desperate need, whoever and wherever they are. However, the bottom line is that the real extent of progress cannot be measured by ad hoc deliveries to besieged communities – once or twice, every so often.

The bottom line is that we have been wasting too much of our time literally begging for facilitation letters; too much time arguing at roadblocks, pleading that trucks can pass without the sniper taking the shot and medical items not be removed.

I do not come here today to seek favours. But let me say this. Calling for humanitarian actors to be allowed sustained access to all people in need throughout Syria is not a favour. Calling for an end to the removal of medical items off of convoys is not a favour. Calling for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure by all parties to the conflict is not a favour.

Seeking to prevent children from being buried under piles of rubble, in their basements, in their schools, is not a favour. Medicine for the sick and food for the starving are not favours. These are the common precepts, the bedrock, of our shared humanity and the foundations of international humanitarian law, and they must be an unflinching call to the fundamental decency of all people. I call on all those with influence over the parties to reinforce this message and act.

In closing, let me send my very best wishes to everyone observing the holy month of Ramadan. For Muslims in Syria, in the region and across the world it is a time for charity, for contemplation and community; a time for peace and forgiveness. Let us all sincerely hope for an end of violence for this period and beyond.

Let us all sincerely work towards achieving the objectives of the Astana memorandum, so that attacks and bureaucratic impositions are put to an end – once and for all – and the UN and its humanitarian partners can sustainably reach those hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind the current front lines.

(* From a statement before the UN Security Council on 30 May 2017)

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In a “World of Plenty,” G7 Must Fight Faminehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 06:28:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150597 World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam. Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels. “Political failure has led to these crises – political […]

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A child from drought-stricken southern Somalia who survived the long journey to an aid camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2017 (IPS)

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.

“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.

In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.

These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.

In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.

However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.

For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.

Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.

International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.

Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.

President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.

“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.

“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.

The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.

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Why the G7 Must Fund Health & Nutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 21:42:57 +0000 Grace Virtue http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150593 Grace Virtue, Ph.D., is a social justice advocate and senior communications advisor for ACTION global health partnership.

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By Grace Virtue
TAORMINA, Italy, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The G7 Summit, held annually among the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU), plays an important role in shaping responses to global challenges—theoretically at least.

The format of the Summit continues to be modeled off the first one, held in 1975 when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited his counterparts to an informal meeting in Rambouillet to discuss the economic crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973–1974. Leaders adopt a relaxed approach, discussing candidly the main issues on the international agenda.

Their aides (the so-called Sherpas) draft a joint declaration which is signed by the leaders and enshrined as high-level political pledges. Before and during, the Sherpas are lobbied fiercely by civil society trying to get their issues of concern in the joint communiqué released by the Summit.

This year’s Summit begins May 26 in Taormina, Italy. It is arguably one of the most charged and uncertain atmosphere for a meeting of traditional western democratic political leaders. The United States, which normally plays a leading role, is hamstrung by its government, led by Republican President Donald Trump, who, among his many challenges, is currently under investigation by his own law enforcement agencies to determine whether his campaign was complicit in Russian interference in the general election of 2016, which landed him a shock victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Outside of ethical and perhaps legal challenges, Trump, since his inauguration in January, has unleashed a set of policy proposals deliberately targeted at rolling back social justice gains under Barack Obama, his predecessor and even before. From proposed cuts to signature programs like the Affordable Care Act and food stamps for needy families, and hostile policies toward immigrants, the administration’s programs are causing deep uncertainty and anxiety at home and abroad. Trump’s lack of interest and understanding of the outside world, rounds off a list of flaws that justifies completely questions about his capacity or suitability to lead the free world toward any progressive end.

This year’s summit also comes with the shadow of Brexit—the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union; a French President, the youngest in the country’s history and a mere three weeks in his presidency; looming elections in the UK and Germany; a continued migrant crisis as desperate people flee wars and famines in Africa and the Middle East, and this week’s horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, England. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity like we have not seen since the height of the Cold War, are the watchword of this G7 Summit.

So, when the leaders gather at their hilltop hideaway tomorrow, there is much that is new and worrying to be discussed and great energy will likely be consumed navigating these new and unpredictable dynamics. This does not augur well for those concerns that are so devastating but so old and entrenched, that they are not news anymore—no longer sexy enough grab the headlines, if they ever were. I speak here of diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and chronic starvation and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In 2015, 10.4 million people were sickened with TB; 1.8 million of them died—more than HIV and malaria combined. Tuberculosis is the world’s only airborne drug-resistant epidemic and is responsible for one-third of the world’s antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths. By 2050, estimates show drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) will claim an additional 75 million lives at a global economic cost of US$16.7 trillion.

Since its establishment in 2002 by G7 countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has saved more than 20 million lives through its support for AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria programs in countries and communities most in need. Vulnerable communities, including migrants and refugees, are at increased risk of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS because of overcrowded living and working conditions, poor nutrition, and lack of access to care. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all G7 countries signed on to, called for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030.

To achieve this, G7 leaders must continue to invest in the Global Fund. Concerned civil society groups like ACTION global health partnership in Taormina advocating to the end, are hoping they will. Other major ask of G7 leadership include accelerated efforts to eradicate malnutrition and ensure proper nutrients for every child, particularly in the first 1000 days of life. Coupled with the inability to access proper healthcare by the world’s poorest people, malnutrition is one of the greatest barrier to human development and global prosperity

It is obvious that there are many complicated issues facing the G7 leaders, but, investing in health and nutrition should not be controversial—it should be fundamental.

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Slow Growth Stalls SDGs’ Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/slow-growth-stalls-sdgs-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slow-growth-stalls-sdgs-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/slow-growth-stalls-sdgs-progress/#comments Thu, 25 May 2017 06:49:43 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150582 The world will not be on track to eradicate poverty by 2030 if current growth trends continue, a UN task force found. The Inter Agency Task Force, comprising over 50 international institutions, launched a report assessing progress on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a global framework on development financing to help implement the internationally agreed […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The world will not be on track to eradicate poverty by 2030 if current growth trends continue, a UN task force found.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, briefs journalists on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, briefs journalists on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The Inter Agency Task Force, comprising over 50 international institutions, launched a report assessing progress on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a global framework on development financing to help implement the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Though there has been some progress in development financing, slow global economic growth and decreased trade and investment growth since the 2008 financial crisis has hampered progress on the SDGs, including the eradication of poverty by 2030.

“Despite expectations of improved growth in 2017 and 2018, the current global environment bodes poorly for the achievement of the SDGs,” said Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.

In 2016, the world economy grew at its slowest rate since the crisis and the global GDP is projected to grow at less than 3 percent over the next two years. Such rates are likely to leave almost 7 percent of the world’s population extremely poor by 2030. Least developed countries (LDCs) will fall the farthest behind, Hongbo stated.

Though the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars per day has decreased dramatically in the last few decades, the decline largely relied on strong economic growth in developing countries, the report notes.

Low economic growth is also contributing to rising levels of unemployment. The International Labor Organisation estimates that there will be 3.4 million more unemployed people in 2017 than in 2016, and further increases are expected in 2018.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Director of the Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies Richard Kozul-Wright noted that these trends are partly due to the failure to develop sustainable growth strategies.

“A lot of people expected that the post financial crisis that there will be a serious reflection on the kinds of growth strategies forged prior to the crisis which were clearly unsustainable and not inclusive, but that hasn’t really happened,” he said.

Weak investment is another major challenge hindering the achievement of the SDGs and thus growth, he added.

Between 1 and 5 trillion dollars of additional investment is needed for infrastructure alone, a key element to help sustain growth in developing countries. Transportation infrastructure enables trade and economic development, which is particularly important in land-locked developing countries, while energy-related infrastructure is essential for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

However, public and private infrastructure investment has declined globally. Though official development assistance (ODA) increased by almost 9 percent in 2016 from 2015, escalating humanitarian needs have led to significant short-term and long-term financial gaps.

Uncertainty in key policies of major countries only heightens risks in the global economy, including the U.S.’ proposals to cut foreign aid and climate finance.

Hongbo noted that the creation of national policies that align with the SDGs as well as international cooperation to boost sustainable and inclusive growth is crucial.

“Many of the challenges that countries face, including slow economic growth, climate change, and humanitarian crises, have cross-border or global repercussions and it cannot be addressed by any one actor alone,” he stated.

The launch of the report coincided with the second annual forum on financing for development which brought together member states and international organizations to discuss the pressing issues laid out in the report and its potential solutions.

Participants reached an agreement on SDG financing, calling on governments to increase and adhere to their ODA commitments and improve tax policies, including international efforts to fight tax evasion, while urging development banks and private sector actors to help mobilize catalytic resources.

“We will have our voice heard whenever we can, we will speak loudly for the LDCs and the vulnerable countries and its people,” Hongbo concluded.

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Community Seed Banks: Securing Diversity for Climate Change Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 16:13:30 +0000 Elena Pasquini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150552 The author is Editor in Chief Degrees of Latitude

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By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, May 23 2017 (IPS)

For thousands of years, farmers have used genetic diversity to cope with weather variability and changing climate conditions. They have stored, planted, selected and improved seeds to continue producing food in a dynamic environment.

Community seed banks are mostly informal collections of seeds maintained by local communities and managed with their traditional knowledge, whose primary function is to conserve seeds for local use. They can play a major role in climate change adaptation, according to a recent article published by Bioversity International’s researchers Ronnie Vernooy, Bhuwon Sthapit, Gloria Otieno, Pitambar Shrestha and Arnab Gupta.

Based on various countries’ experiences, the article argues that, ‘community seed banks can enhance the resilience of farmers’ by securing ‘access to, and availability of, diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties’.

According to Ronnie Vernooy, genetic resources policy specialist at Bioversity International, ‘mostly because of climate change, there’s a stronger interest in establishing and supporting community seed banks’. However, many of them ‘are still quite fragile, organizationally and in terms of technical management’, he added.

Bioversity International, which is working in several countries on informal seed systems, has designed a project for community seedbanks Platform and is currently looking for donors interested in its implementation. The Platform aims at reinforcing farmers’ seed systems by supporting existing community seed banks as well as national or regional community seedbank networks around the world, scaling out their activities and contributing to their sustainability. It should have four key functions, covering documentation and analysis to practical experiences, capacity building, research agenda coordination and digitalization andmanagement of data.

But why do community seed banks matter?

Tools for adaptation

Seeds are stored in diverse types of collections, ranging from international and national genebanks, or ex situ collections where seeds remain often for years or decades, to small seed banks managed locally by farmers. ‘In the ex-situ collections … seeds are like frozen in time … That means there’s no chance [for them] to adapt in the field to changing conditions’, Ronnie Vernooy, explained to Degrees of Latitude.

In community banks, seeds usually remain for shorter terms, ‘ sometimes for one year’, Vernooy specified, to be then distributed to farmers: ‘Those plants are in the field and in the real conditions, so they are adapting themselves to changing circumstances. Then farmers usually select the best seeds of any given crop in the field. Part of those seeds goes back to the community seed banks and the next year the cycle continues’. Moreover, genebanks focus more on the major food crops, while community banks tend to conserve all the diversity farmers have on field, including minor crops, neglected varieties, medicinal plants, wild relatives and even trees.

Community banks not only conserve genetic diversity, they ‘have the potential … to become seed producers and it’s happening … but it requires support’, Vernooy said. Compared to the formal seed sector – which includes research institutions, genebanks, governmental bodies and private companies – the informal seed bank offers several advantages to small farmers, according to Vernooy. It provides not only ‘broader [genetic] diversity’, but seeds that are better adapted to farming systems that ‘tend to be diverse, [located] in marginal, very dry or mountainous areas, etc.’, he explained. ‘[Seeds from the formal sector] tend to require high level of inputs – fertilizers, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides … – and the price is often high’.

However, ‘it’s not a black and white system’, he stressed. The formal sector can help building farmers’ capacities. In fact, ‘in many countries we are trying to breach the gap between the formal and the informal systems with activities like participatory plant breeding, but also with the community seed banks … We try to bring the national genebanks work together with the community seed banks’, he said. In an ‘ideal world community seed banks could be part of what’s called a national conservation system. Right now, governments channel money into national genebanks … Our argument is why not also put a small amount of money into each of the community seed banks that exists or into the new ones that can be established?’, Vernooy said.

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An enabling legal environment
Strengthening community seed banks requires not only technical and financial support but also an enabling policy and legal environment. In many countries, apart from a few like Bhutan, Nepal, Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, “there is no or little recognition of and support for community seed banks …, [and] farmers are not allowed to sell farm-saved seed. In others, legislation to protect farmers’ genetic resources is lacking’, Vernooy’s article reports.

Laws and regulations that can conflict ‘on what community seed banks are trying to do, [for instance] the intellectual property rights policies …’ are also often in place, Vernooy explained. Community seed banks are ‘like collective enterprises’ managed cooperatively: ‘Laws that prohibit or restrain these collective uses are in contradiction to what community seeds banks do’, Vernooy explained.

From an international perspective, the Convention of Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have been ‘quite supporting’, according to Vernooy. A study out of the Norwegian Development Fund, suggests that community seed banks can also contribute to the implementation of farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds. Those rights are recognized by ITPGRFA, which is legally-binding for 143 countries. The Treaty demands contracting parties not only to promote or support ‘farmers and local communities’ efforts to manage and conserve on-farm their plant genetic resources for food and agriculture’ but also ‘in situ conservation of wild crop relatives and wild plants for food production’.

‘ITPGRFA has the farmers’ rights and in principle the text is very much in support of community seed banks, but then it goes back to the national governments to implement those international agreements. So, we are back to the same situation’, Vernooy said.

However, the direction seems clear: ‘There’s quite a strong international movement of people working on these issues and the international treaty itself is quite interested in advancing on this’, he said.

Photo credits: Bioversity International – Bioversity International/C.Fadda – Seeds for Needs, Ethiopia

This story was originally published by Degrees of Latitude

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“Horrific” Increase in Worldwide Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 15:04:43 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150545 Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report. In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement. “Since we […]

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Saidi Olivier, a displaced farmer in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with his family in an IDP camp. Credit: IDMC

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report.

In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement.

“Since we started this conversation, hundreds of families have been or are in the process of being displaced today,” said Secretary-General of NRC and former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland during a press briefing.

In 125 countries, a total of 31.1 million new displacements were recorded, representing an increase of over 3 million from 2015 and translating to one person displaced every second.

“When a family is pushed out of their home, often for years, it is a sign that something is horrifically wrong in a nation, in a locality, and also in international relations,” Egeland added.

Of the total, nearly 7 million were newly displaced by conflict alone in 2016. To everyone’s surprise, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surpassed Syria and Iraq in having the most new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world.

“Our eyes and our focus were very much on the Middle East,” IDMC’s Director Alexandra Bilak told IPS.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has been consistently affected by internal displacement over the years, but we just weren’t expecting that spike in the DRC and we certainly weren’t expecting higher numbers there than in Syria,” she continued.

DRC has been marred by insecurity since the 1990s when the Rwandan genocide and an influx of refugees plunged the country into the deadliest conflict in African history, killing almost 5 million civilians.

Though the country declared peace in 2003, there has been a resurgence in violence between armed groups which has led to more than 900,000 new displacements over the course of 2016.

Egeland recalled his experience working in the DRC as Under-Secretary-General between 2003 and 2006, stating, “We were supposed to end that [conflict] a decade ago.”

He noted that DRC saw dwindling humanitarian resources over the years and fading attention.

“It fell off the top of the agenda and that was dangerous—that was a major mistake,” Egeland continued.

Bilak told IPS that the displacement figures found for the DRC in the report are “clearly an underestimate” as over 1 million have been newly displaced in the Central African country since the beginning of 2017.

The organizations also found that disasters displaced three times more people than conflict, documenting over 24 million new displacements in 118 countries.

Over 68 percent of all new disaster-related displacement took place in East Asia and the Pacific, including China and the Philippines, which saw the highest numbers of displacements due to heavy floods and typhoons. The effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will only further increase such displacement, the report noted.

And it is vulnerable small island states that will and continue to suffer disproportionately, Bilak said.

Haiti, which is still reeling from the impacts of the 2010 earthquake and most recently Hurricane Matthew, is among the top countries with the largest per capita disaster displacements. The Caribbean nation not only faces a high risk of disasters, but also a low capacity to respond and cope.

“This is another sad demonstration of the recurrent shocks to the system that these types of events represent and how difficult it is for certain countries to recover from them,” Bilak stated.

However, despite the fact that IDPs outnumber all refugees by two to one, much of the world’s attention and concern has been focused on refugees and migrants rather than the issue of internal displacement. For instance, more money was spent resettling refugees in donor countries than on the crises in countries of origin that forced people to flee in the first place.

“By only looking at refugees and migrants, you are essentially only really looking at the endpoint of a crisis—you are looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Bilak told IPS.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted and unstrategic to focus all political and financial attention on the symptoms of the problem rather than on the causes,” she continued.

Egeland echoed similar sentiments, stating that though there are high numbers of refugees in the world today, it is a “total myth” that people are “overflooding” Europe.

There are some links between IDPs and refugees as unresolved internal displacement can sometimes lead to cross-border movements. Countries that often have high numbers of IDPs also tend to produce many of the world’s refugees such as South Sudan and Syria.

However, it is necessary to look at the full migration and displacement picture and to acknowledge that internal displacement is an integral part of that picture, Bilak said.

Understanding patterns of displacement and movements allow for efficient and effective work on prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.

Both Bilak and Egeland called on renewed and redirected political and financial investments in this often overshadowed issue.

“The report is a tool for policymakers to help them prioritize where they should allocate their resources, both political resources and their financial resources,” Bilak told IPS.

This includes an increase in development assistance in order to reduce existing vulnerabilities and future risk, helping mitigate the long-term impacts of internal displacement and preventing cyclical crises from continuing in the future.

“Until the structural drivers of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment are addressed, conflict and human rights violations will continue to cause displacement and impede solutions,” the report concludes.

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The ‘Public’ in Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-in-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:43 +0000 Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150532 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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By Vani S. Kulkarni
PHILADELPHIA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

 

The discourse must move beyond a top-down approach to listen to the people and formulate best insurance practices

Much ink has been spilled in documenting the inadequacy of budgetary allocations for public health insurance, specifically for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance (PFHI) scheme. Though the 2017-18 budget allocation has marginally increased from last year’s revised estimates, it has declined relative to last year’s budgeted amount by about ₹500 crore. However, higher budgetary allocation can only constitute a small part of the solution to the scheme’s mixed, if not lacklustre, performance.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and procedures at government-set prices, for an annual enrolment fee of ₹30. However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them. Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discrimination against disadvantaged groups; a lack of mandate on insurance companies to achieve higher enrolment rates; and an absence of oversight by government agencies.

Increase in hospitalisation
True, there has been a substantial increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is unclear if it has enabled people to access the genuinely needed, and hitherto unaffordable, inpatient care. Often, doctors and hospitals have colluded in performing unnecessary surgical procedures on patients to claim insurance money. For instance, hospitals have claimed reimbursements worth millions of rupees for conducting hysterectomies on thousands of unsuspecting, poor women. Indeed, in the absence of regulations and standards, perverse incentives are created for empanelled hospitals to conduct surgeries. It is thus not surprising that there is no robust evidence of an improvement in health outcomes.

Evidence on the financial protection front is conflicting as well. One study revealed that poorer households in districts exposed to the RSBY and other PFHIs recorded an increase in out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures for hospital care, and a corresponding rise in incidence of catastrophic expenditure. There is near-consensus that the RSBY has resulted in higher OOP expenditures. Though it is a cashless scheme, many users are exploited by unscrupulous hospital staff.

So, what is the solution? There is a need to bring the ‘public’ back into the discourse on public health to highlight its present culture. The conversation needs to move beyond a top-down approach specifying budget allocation and administrative and technical efficiency. It needs to involve listening to the real public to deliberate on various health practices and policies.

My ethnographic study of the RSBY in Kalaburagi and Mysuru districts between 2014 and 2016 brought to light that a top-down approach on allocation and coverage was important but, by itself, did not translate to expected outcomes. What mattered more was the existing culture of health insurance — how it was perceived, practised and experienced in the everyday, local worlds of the enrolled households. Though they valued aspects like the money available and the number of illnesses covered, they were more deeply affected by how other actors — doctors, local officials, neighbours and even relatives — related to health insurance.

Card not accepted
The disillusionment of Savitri, one of the beneficiaries, after obtaining the plastic card said it all: “If public officials only give us the card without telling us how to use it, the card is just plastic material. Sometimes information is also not correct, making us feel that the card is of no real value if we do not know how to use it.” Further, many hospitals refused to acknowledge the card’s value. Shivakumar’s observation summed it well: “We went to the hospital with the card. Not only could it not be used but also the doctors did not even acknowledge us as patients… We just brought the card home and tossed it to the shelf.” Many bemoaned the absence of public debate on health issues and the RSBY card. Deva’s pithy response was illustrative: “If it is not talked about and debated, we can only think that there is no big value that we should pay attention to.”

Households clearly separated the economic value from social ones. A section saw health insurance as a bad omen, one that announced arrival of illness. Ramesh Kumar, among those in his neighbourhood who refused to enrol, explained: “This card is not a solution for illness, it is a cause of it. You see, when you people knock on our doors to give us the card, it feels like an illness is knocking on our doors. The farther away we are from the card, the further we are from health problems.”

Overall, while the discourse on a greater allocation to RSBY and enhancement of cost-effectiveness are important, a shift of emphasis is needed, bringing the ‘public’ back into the sphere of public health.

The oped first appeared in The Hindu.

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Africa and India – Sharing the Development Journeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 06:40:13 +0000 Akinwumi Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150475 Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank

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Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Akinwumi Adesina
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Africa, like India, is a continent of rich and compelling diversity. Both continents share a similar landscape, a shared colonial history, and similar economic and demographic challenges. This helps both India and Africa work especially well with each other.

This cooperation is both a mutual privilege and priority. At the end of the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced very substantial credits and grant assistance which benefitted our relationship. In addition to an India-Africa Development Fund, an India-Africa Health Fund and 50,000 scholarships for African students in India were established.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018. This is attributed largely to initiatives by India’s private sector, and here again we are on the same wave length. We understand and appreciate that the private sector will be the critical element in Africa’s transformation.

African countries are targeted by Indian investors due to their high-growth markets and mineral rich reserves. India is the fifth largest country investing in Africa, with investments over the past 20 years amounting to $54 billion, 19.2% of all its total Foreign Direct Investment.

Akinwumi Adesina

Akinwumi Adesina

At the same time a transformed Africa is taking shape. Despite a tough global economic environment, African countries continue to be resilient. Their economies, on average, grew by 2.2% in 2016, and are expected to rise to 3.4% this year. But the average does not tell the true picture. Indeed, 14 African countries grew by over 5% in 2016 and 18 countries grew between 3-5%. That’s a remarkable performance in a period when the global environment has been impeded by recession.

By 2050, Africa will have roughly the same population as China and India combined today, with high consumer demand from a growing middle class and nearly a billion ambitious and hard-working young people. The cities will be booming, as the populations (and economic expectations) rise exponentially around the continent.

This is the busy and bustling future that Africa and India must shape together in a strategic partnership. And nowhere is this partnership more needed than on the issue of infrastructure.

At the top of the list is power and electricity. Some 645 million Africans do not have access to electricity. It’s why the African Development Bank launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa in 2016. Our goal is to help achieve universal access to electricity within ten years. We will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years and leverage $45-50 billion from the private sector. We plan to connect 130 million people to the grid system, 75 million people through off grid systems and provide 150 million people with access to clean cooking energy.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018.
The African Development Bank is also in the vanguard of renewable energy development and the remarkable “off-grid revolution” in Africa. We host the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, jointly developed with the African Union, which has already attracted $10 billion in investment commitments from G7 countries.

Universal access requires large financial investments. By some estimates, Africa needs $43-$55 billion per year until the 2030s, compared to current energy investments of about $8-$9.2 billion.

We must close this gap. And to do so, the mobilization of domestic resources will play a major role. Pension funds in Africa will reach $1.3 trillion by 2025. Already tax revenues have exceeded $500 billion per year. Sovereign wealth funds in Africa stand at $164 billion.

To attract significant investment by institutional investors, infrastructure should become an asset class. The African Development Bank has launched Africa50, a new infrastructure entity, now capitalized by African countries at over $865 million, to help accelerate infrastructure project development and project finance. Also, later this year, the African Development Bank will be launching the ‘Africa Investment Forum’ to leverage African and global pension and sovereign wealth funds into investments in Africa.

Moreover, the African business environment keeps improving, with easier regulations and more conducive government policies to attract the global investors. In 2015, Africa alone accounted for more than 30% of the business regulatory reforms in the world.

The fact is, we have already started to transform Africa. This is the territory of the High 5s: Light up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialize Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the Quality of life of Africans.

We can forge winning partnerships investing in power generation, energy, agro-aligned industrialisation and food processing. In doing so we can work on the synergies that exist between infrastructure, regional integration, the regulation of enterprises, employment, health and innovation.

In each of these areas I see the prospect for cooperation and collaboration with Indian partners. For example, we are partnering with the EXIM Bank of India and others to establish the Kukuza, a company based in Mauritius, to help develop and support public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure project development and finance.

India is already one of the top bidders for Bank projects. This is a reflection of its immense expertise in a diverse range of areas from engineering to education; from ICT to railway development; skills development to regional integration; and from manufacturing to industrialisation.

It is our pleasure to partner with such an inveterate and committed investor in Africa. And may this investment be lucrative and justified, and may our mutual interest and cooperation continue for many years to come.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. The 2017 AfDB Annual Meetings will be held in Ahmedabad, India, 22-26 May.

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