Inter Press Service » Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Sharing the Vision of a Changed Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:05:59 +0000 Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139849 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

This year has many initiatives taking place in the realm of women’s leadership, but one platform and movement in particular is standing out, and people are noticing. We are the founders of IMPACT Leadership 21, leadership architects for inclusive, high growth economies.

As a global social enterprise, the organisation is committed to inclusive and sustainable leadership at the top level.  This commitment is the driving force behind our core mission:  ACCELERATE women’s leadership at the highest levels of influence in the 21st century.Someone always has to dream.

Following is a conversation about the goals and strategies of IMPACT Leadership 21.

Janet:  Constance and I have a wealth of experience in many sectors.  We have operated in corporate, governmental, non-profit, diplomatic, and entrepreneurial arenas.  We observed that there were gaps across all sectors hindering the pace of advancement.  We developed discussion forums and targeted training modules to address these gaps.

Constance:  We grew tired of the same dialogue and not seeing the needle move very much.  We grew impatient and decided to take action.

Janet:  IMPACT represents the core values and principles required for transformational leadership. I – Innovation, M – Multiculturalism, P – Passion, A – Attunement, C – Collaboration, and T – Tenacity.

Together with our partners, we:

  • Convene catalytic conversations and forums that revolutionise global leadership.
  • Provide tools, resources, opportunities and channels that equip leaders to succeed in a global, hyper-connected world.
  • Inspire emerging global leaders to be catalysts for change.
  • Engage men as powerful ambassadors for change and a gender balanced leadership at the top.

Constance:  We provide discussions forums and trainings to assist companies and individuals.  Through our framework, we help clients identify challenges, then structure actionable step to help them overcome those challenges. Our forums are designed to identify, build, and engage business/social ecosystems that are industry specific to accelerate leadership.  If you want to build strong leadership, we are your architects.

Starting in 2012, IMPACT Leadership 21 has introduced three core programmes:  the Leadership Acceleration Training Program/High IMPACT, the Emerging Global Leaders Program, and Conversations with Men.  The Emerging Global Leaders Program was taught at Columbia University (School of International Public Affairs and Teachers College) and as an academy at the United Nations.

Conversations with Men was a featured content segment at the 2014 California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, CA and the 2014 GOLD Symposium in Tokyo.

Janet:  I created these programmes to address a need seen worldwide.  Conversations with Men has a very special place.  Women’s initiatives make the mistake of not including men in the acceleration of women’s leadership.  The men hold the majority of the cards; you need dialogue to have people understand the importance of gender parity.

Constance:  If you examine any great movement in history, you’ll see that the success comes from the efforts of those immediately affected, partnering with those bystanders that are sympathetic to the cause.  I mentioned this in 2012.  We launched our first Conversations with Men in April 2013.  We held it at the United Nations in February 2014.  After that, others started developing like minded initiatives, such as He for She and Lean In Together.  Many dismissed us at first, but history leaves clues to success.  It’s hard to dispute the history. We’ve pioneered this level of forum and training for the 21st century.

A movement and platform cannot go far without support, and this couple has some remarkable people in their corner.

Janet:  We are very humbled to have such incredible pillars to our success, very high profile champions and supporters that have really rolled up their sleeves to help us.

Our foremost driving force since the beginning is Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury (Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and popularly known as the “Father of 1325”, the U.N. Security Council resolution which focused on women, peace and security).

Ambassador Chowdhury’s tireless, hands-on  commitment and advocacy on ensuring equal participation of women at all levels of leadership continues to inspire the work we do as we accelerate women’s global leadership at the top.  It is because of this relentless spirit of championing women’s equality as a man, that we honored Ambassador Chowdhury with the first IMPACT Leadership 21 Frederick Douglass Award in 2013.

Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo (Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat), Ambassador Edita Hrda (Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to U.N.) and Michaela Walsh (Founding President, Women’s World Banking) have also been in our corner from the beginning, and continue to be guide and support us. Leslie Grossman, Founder of Women’s Leadership Exchange, emphatically joined us immediately after our first event and now serves as vice chair of our Global Advisory Council.

Constance:  They are our “salmon swimming upstream”.  Unheard of for most other fish, but second nature to the salmon.  They are our mentors and guides as we challenge the status quo, as we challenge the ways it’s always been done, challenge the seemingly impossible.  We’ve caught the vision of a changed world, now we are helping others see it. Someone always has to dream.

You can meet the leadership architects of IMPACT on Mar. 25, 2015 at the United Nations, convening their pioneering programme, Power of Collaboration, now in its second year.  For more information please visit impactleadership21.com or email communications@impactleadership21.com 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Hold the Rich Accountable in New U.N. Development Goals, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-rich-should-be-held-accountable-in-the-u-n-s-new-development-goals-say-ngos/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 23:55:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139844 A man lives in the makeshift house behind him, Slovak Republic. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

A man lives in the makeshift house behind him in the Slovak Republic, a member of the EU. Photo: Mano Strauch © The World Bank

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) met last January in Switzerland, attended mostly by the rich and the super-rich, the London-based charity Oxfam unveiled a report with an alarming statistic: if current trends continue, the world’s richest one percent would own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth by 2016.

And just 80 of the world’s richest will control as much wealth as 3.5 billion people: half the world’s population.The post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes.

So, when the World Social Forum (WSF), created in response to WEF, holds its annual meeting in Tunis later this week, the primary focus will be on the growing inequalities in present day society.

The Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) on Global Development Perspectives will be releasing a new study which calls for both goals and commitments – this time particularly by the rich – if the U.N.’s 17 proposed new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the post-2015 development agenda are to succeed.

Asked if the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will reach their targeted deadlines in December, had spelled out goals for the rich, Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum in Bonn, told IPS MDG 8 on global partnership for development was indeed a goal for the rich.

“But this goal remained vague and did not include any binding commitments for rich countries,” he pointed out.

This is the reason why the proposed SDG 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development, he added.

In addition, Martens said, governments agreed to include targets on the means of implementation under each of the remaining 16 SDGs. However, many of these targets, again, are not “smart”, i.e. neither specific nor measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

“What we need are ‘smart’ targets to hold rich countries accountable,” he added.

Martens said goals without the means to achieve them are meaningless. And the post-2015 development agenda will only succeed if the SDGs include meaningful and time-bound targets and commitments for the rich that trigger the necessary regulatory and fiscal policy changes, he added.

Goals for the rich are indispensable for the post-2015 agenda, stressed Barbara Adams, senior policy advisor for Global Policy Forum and a member of the coordinating committee of Social Watch.

The eight MDGs, which will be replaced by the proposed new 17 SDGs, to be finalised before world leaders meet at a summit in September, were largely for developing nations with specific targets, including the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, reducing infant mortality and fighting environmental degradation.

Beginning Monday, a new round of inter-governmental negotiations will continue through Mar. 23 to finalise the SDGs.

The 17 new goals, as crafted by an open-ended working group (OWG), include proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities, perhaps by 2030.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator for Social Watch, said three specific “goals for the rich” are particularly important for sustainable development worldwide:

The goal to reduce inequality within and among countries; the goal to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and the goal to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development

He said the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) must be applied rigorously.

Coupled with the human rights principle of equal rights for all and the need to respect the planetary boundaries, this must necessarily translate into different obligations for different categories of countries, Bissio added.

Henning Melber, director emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, said for Dag Hammarskjöld, the former U.N. Secretary-General, the United Nations was an organisation guided by solidarity. If solidarity is with the poor, the rich have to realise that less is more in terms of stability, sustainability, equality and the future of humanity, he said.

In its new study, the Civil Society Reflection Group said all of the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group are relevant for rich, poor and emerging economies, in North and South alike.

All governments that subscribe to the post-2015 agenda must deliver on all goals.

On the face of it, for rich countries, many of the goals and targets seem to be quite easy to fulfill or have already been achieved, especially those related to social accomplishments (e.g. targets related to absolute poverty, primary education or primary health care), the Group noted.

“Unfortunately, social achievements in reality are often fragile particularly for the socially excluded and can easily be rolled back as a result of conflict (as in the case of Ukraine), of capitalism in crisis (in many countries after 2008) or as a result of wrong-headed, economically foolish and socially destructive policies, as in the case of austerity policies in many regions, from Latin America to Asia to Southern Europe. “

In the name of debt reduction and improved competitiveness, these policies brought about large-scale unemployment and widespread impoverishment, often coupled with the loss of basic income support or access to basic primary health care. More often than not, this perversely increased sovereign debt instead of decreasing it (“Paradox of thrift”), the study said.

But also under ‘normal’ circumstances some of the “MDG-plus” targets relating to poverty eradication and other social development issues may prove to be a real challenge in many parts of the rich world, where poverty has been rising.

In the United States, the study said, poverty increased steadily in the last two decades and currently affects some 50 million people, measured by the official threshold of 23,850 dollars a year for a family of four.

In Germany, 20.3 percent of the population – a total of 16.2 million people – were affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013.

In the European Union as a whole, the proportion of poor or socially excluded people was 24.5 percent, the Group said.

To address this and similar situations, target 1.2 in the Open Working Group’s proposal requests countries to “by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”.

How one looks at ‘goals for the rich’ depends on whether one takes a narrow national or inward-looking view, or whether one takes into account the international responsibilities and extraterritorial obligations of countries for past, present and future actions and omissions affecting others beyond a country’s borders; whether one accepts and honors the CBDR principle for the future of humankind and planet earth, the study said.

In addition, this depends on whether one accepts home country responsibilities for actions and omissions of non-state actors, such as transnational corporations and their international supply chains. Contemporary international soft law (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) is based on this assumption, as are other accords such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Last, but not least, rich countries tend to be more powerful in terms of their influence on international and global policymaking and standard setting, the study declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Multi-Drug Resistance Adds to Tuberculosis Epidemic in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 22:33:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139840 In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Rising multi-drug resistance in patients suffering from tuberculosis, a debilitating infectious lung disease which mainly impacts the developing world, has led to a public health emergency in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, according to state officials.

While efforts to combat the disease worldwide have produced results, with the global death rate dropping by 45 percent since 1990, the annual number of new cases in Papua New Guinea has risen from 16,000 to 30,000 over the past five years.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases [...]. The first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies." -- Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea
On World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, observed on Mar. 24, the country’s health experts spoke out about the challenges they face in tackling a disease that thrives in communities struggling against hardship and inadequate access to information and basic services.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases. TB is a disease with long incubation and the first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies. When patients present late [at health facilities] with advanced disease, it is difficult to treat,” Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

Disease symptoms include fever, chest pains, fatigue, weight loss and cough, frequently with sputum and blood, which results in the airborne spread of bacteria.

The illness transmits quickly in overcrowded impoverished settlements and in Papua New Guinea, where sanitation coverage is only 19 percent and less than half the population have access to clean water, it is the leading cause of hospital deaths.

In rural villages of Kikori District in the southern Gulf Province the TB incidence rate is an alarming 1,290 per 100,000 people, according to the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. The national prevalence is 541 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the global average of 126.

The campaign to halt the epidemic in Gulf Province is supported by the international medical non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Operating from the main town of Kerema, MSF has since last year diagnosed an average of 50 new TB cases every month, inlcuding patients as young as 10 months.

Adults aged 15-54 years are mainly afflicted, but youth account for about 28 percent of cases in PNG, while pulmonary TB and TB meningitis contribute to malnutrition and mortality in children.

One mother took her ill six-year-old child to Kerema General Hospital in an arduous journey from her mountain village, which took three hours by boat and two by truck.

“In the beginning, the mother did not understand what TB is, why the child needs treatment every day for long periods and why she has to be away from her village. It took two months to gain her acceptance of the treatment and for her to prepare for living away from the village,” a spokesperson for MSF in Papua New Guinea recounted to IPS.

“But the child is now receiving treatment every day with signs of improvement.”

Threatening disease control efforts is increasing resistance in patients to the strong first-line drugs, isoniazid and rifampicin. Common practice of patients stopping medication as soon as they feel better and not fully completing treatment is the main cause of multi-drug resistant TB in the country, Suparat Phuanukoonnon of the Institute of Medical Research told IPS.

When treatment is interrupted, the lower level of medication consumed fails to eradicate all the bacteria, which then develop resistance in the patient’s body.

In 2013, 4.5 percent of diagnosed TB cases in the country were multi-drug resistant, a significant increase from 1.9 percent in 2010. Drug resistant TB is rising in the rural Western and Gulf Provinces and the capital, Port Moresby, where more than half the population live in squatter settlements.

The impact on development is acute, with 75 percent of people with TB worldwide of working age.

“TB can affect all or any part of the human body. It, therefore, affects the whole person and reduces their ability to be productive to society or their community,” University of Papua New Guinea’s Samiak said.

While sufferers face rising healthcare expenses, the inability to work reduces their incomes. Poverty is perpetuated in the next generation when the disease affects both parents, forcing children to withdraw from school in order to care and provide for the family.

Papua New Guinea is the most populous Pacific Island nation with a population of seven million. But there are immense logistical challenges to fighting infectious diseases in the country, with more than 85 percent living in rural areas with poor, if any, access to roads and readily available transport to urban centres and health facilities.

A further hindrance is insufficient healthcare professionals with less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people and a decline in the country’s health services since 2002, according to a report last year by the National Research Institute.

It found the availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Resources also need to be directed toward public education following a medical research institute survey of 1,034 people in the Central, Madang and Eastern Highlands Provinces, which showed the majority to be unaware of TB, its causes, and treatment.

Phuanukoonnon explained, “Prior to the Global Fund grant for TB [eradication] in PNG in 2007, it was a neglected disease in terms of political commitment and proper funding for the control programme.”

Limited health services are stretched as it is and, while TB information is available at health centres, overworked staff members still have little time for advocacy.

Any educational approach should address “how people receive and process information and believe the information enough to take action”, which requires that “health communication should be relevant to local contexts,” she continued.

Resources to assail the epidemic have been boosted, with the Global Fund announcing last month a further 18 million dollars of funding to fight TB in Papua New Guinea over the next three years.

Samiak said that financial resources could be well spent developing in-country laboratory facilities and staff training, so that TB test results are processed more efficiently and patient follow up and treatment expedited.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Development and Taxes, a Vital Piece of the Post-2015 Puzzlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139795 A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Public funds are vitally important to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making corporate tax avoidance trends a pressing issue for post-2015 Financing for Development discussions.

A draft agenda circulated this week for the Financing for Development (FfD) post-2015 Development Conference to be held in Addis Ababa in July places domestic public finances as a key action agenda item.“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else.” -- Nicholas Shaxson

The agenda acknowledges the need for greater tax cooperation considering “there are limits to how much governments can individually increase revenues in our interconnected world”.

Over 130 countries, represented by the Group of 77 (G-77), called for greater international tax cooperation to be included on the agenda, in recognition of the increasingly central role of tax systems in development.

These calls come in light of the Luxembourg Leaks and Swiss Leaks, which have revealed in recent months how some of the world’s biggest multinational corporations avoid paying billions of dollars of taxes through deals with ‘tax havens’ in wealthy countries.

Two reports out this week, from Oxfam and the Tax Justice Network, both look at the impacts of corporate tax avoidance on global inequality.

Catherine Olier, Oxfam’s European Union policy advisor, told IPS, “Corporate tax avoidance is actually a very important issue for developing countries because according to the International Monetary Fund, the poor countries are more reliant on corporate tax than rich countries.”

Olier said that considerable funds are needed to make the SDGs possible.

“If we look at what’s currently on the table in terms of Official Development Assistance (‘international aid’) or even leveraging money from the private sector, this is never going to be enough to finance the SDGs,” she said.

“Tax is definitely going to be the most sustainable and the most important source of financing,” Olier said.

Oxfam’s report called on European institutions, especially the European Commission, to “analyse the negative impacts one member state’s tax system can have on other European and developing countries, and provide public recommendations for change.”

Nicholas Shaxson from the Tax Justice Network told IPS that tax havens are predominantly wealthier countries, but that they negatively impact both rich and poor countries.

“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else,” he said. “That’s where the battle line is, that’s where the dividing line is.”

He added that corporate taxes were particularly important to developing countries, in part because it was more difficult to leverage tax revenue from a poorer constituency.

“In pure justice terms, in terms of a large wealthy multinational extracting natural resources or making profits in a developing country and not paying tax, I think that nearly everyone in the world would agree in their gut that there’s something wrong with that situation,” Shaxson said.

Shaxson is the author of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) report: Ten Reasons to Defend the Corporation Tax, published earlier this week.

The report argues that trillions of dollars of public spending is at risk, and that if current trends continue, corporate headline taxes will reach zero in the next two to three decades.

Meanwhile, Oxfam reported in January that the “combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people next year [2016] unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked.”

Oxfam is calling for a Ministerial Roundtable to be held at the FfD Conference to help facilitate the establishment of a U.N. inter-governmental body on tax cooperation.

Olier told IPS that while developing countries have expressed support for greater tax cooperation, there has so far been less support from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, including European countries and the United States.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women in the Philippines at the Forefront of the Health Food Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-in-the-philippines-at-the-forefront-of-the-health-food-movement/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:25:47 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139784 In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

In the Philippines, 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

When Tinay Alterado’s team from ARUGAAN, an organisation of women healthcare advocates, visited Eastern Visayas, a region of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, they noticed that the relief and rescue sites were flooded with donated milk formula, which nursing mothers were feeding to their babies in vast quantities.

Milk formula was one of the hundreds of relief items that streamed into the affected region in the aftermath of the strongest recorded storm to ever hit land.

“No one knows if GMOs are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health." -- Angelina Galang, head of Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF)
“We intervened because we knew from what we saw that we had to teach women how to breastfeed and how important it is for them, their babies and their families,” Alterado told IPS.

ARUGAAN, which in Filipino means to nurture or take care of someone, is a home centre organised by mostly poor, urban working mothers who care for babies up to three-and-a-half months old and advocate for healthy lifestyles, especially exclusive breastfeeding.

“We informed the women that they can and must breastfeed, and it should be for [up to] six months or even longer,” Alterado said.

Her group’s emergency response in the typhoon-affected areas took more time than planned, as they had to teach women how to induce milk from their breasts through a process called ‘lactation massage’ and how to store the milk for their babies’ next meal.

Alterado said her colleagues have doubled their efforts to spread awareness on this crucial aspect of motherhood, which is not ingrained in the country’s culture. Few people connect the act of breastfeeding with its associated economic and environmental benefits, such as reducing trash or easing a family’s financial woes.

In a country where 22 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 32 percent of children are stunted, women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition cannot be underestimated.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “An overreliance on rice, low levels of breastfeeding and […] recurring natural hazards, connected to and amplified by […] poverty, means that children do not eat enough” in this archipelago nation of just over 100 million people.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the Philippines is devastated by an average of 20 typhoons every year that severely damage crops and farmlands, adding another layer to the thorny question of how to solve the country’s food issues.

Last year, the Philippines joined a list of some 63 developing countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the number of hungry people ahead of the 2015 deadline. Still, the country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, contributing to Asia-Pacific’s dubious distinction of being home to 553 million malnourished people as of 2014.

As government officials and international development organisations struggle to come to terms with these numbers against the backdrop of impending natural disasters, women across the Philippines are already leading the way on efforts to combat hunger and ease the burden of malnutrition.

Ancient wisdom to tackle modern lifestyles

Alterado’s crusade is no different from that of Angelina Galang who heads Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF), a coalition of organisations pushing for consumers’ right to know, choose, and have access to safe and healthy food.

For Galang, the struggle starts at home. When her grandchildren visit every weekend, she doesn’t serve them the usual soda, junk food or take-out pizza favored by so many young people. Instead, she gives them fruits and healthy, home-cooked snacks like boiled bananas.

She said the children didn’t like it at first but after many months, they have become used to weekend visits with their grandma that do not feature Coke and hot dogs. “Hopefully, they will learn and adopt that kind of lifestyle as they grow up,” she told IPS.

Galang said teaching the ‘fast food generation’ about the right kinds and quantities of food is a challenge, especially since many young people are taken in by corporations’ attractive marketing tactics.

But the problems do not end there. CRSF is also challenging the Philippine government to conduct better research on genetically modified crops and to label food products that are known to have genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which alter the genetic makeup of crops to enhance their appearance, nutrient content and growth.

“No one knows if GMO foods are safe to eat, but there is mounting evidence that they pose dangers to human health,” Galang asserted.

“Consumers are the guinea pigs of GMOs,” she said, adding that eight GMO crops have been approved by the Philippine government for propagation and 63 for importation.

The movement against genetically modified crops recently coalesced around the government’s attempts to plant the genetically engineered ‘golden rice’, a strand fortified with beta-carotene that the body converts to Vitamin A.

The government claimed its experiment was designed to address the country’s massive Vitamin A deficiency, which affects 1.7 million children under the age of five and roughly 500,000 pregnant and nursing mothers, according to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Activists and concerned citizens say that GMOs will worsen hunger, kill diversification and possibly contaminate other crops. Women like Galang also contend that until long-term, comprehensive studies are done, “It is better to eat and buy local, unprocessed and organic foods.”

Educating the youth

Experts say the first step in the health food movement is to educate children on the importance of eating local and organic.

Camille Genuino, a member of the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation based in Bacolod City, is witnessing this first hand. Her four-year-old child, who attends a daycare centre, is learning how to plant herbs and make pasta and pizza from the fresh produce harvested from their little plot.

“Educating children and exposing them to the benefits of farming is good parenting,” said Genuino, whose non-governmental advocacy group produces the nutritious Mingo powder – an instant formula that turns into a rich porridge when mixed with water – which is distributed in disaster-stricken areas.

Her child’s daycare centre is based in Quezon City, a poor, urban area located close to a waste disposal facility where residents have installed farms on their roofs so they can grow their own food. The centre conducts regular feeding programmes for 80 to 100 children in the area.

It is a humble effort in the greater scheme of things, but similar initiatives across the Philippines suggest a growing movement, led largely by women, is at the forefront of sparking changes in the food and nutrition sector.

Monina Geaga, who heads Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (SARILAYA), a group of grassroots women’s organisations, believes that independent efforts to ensure a family’s nutrition can go a long way.

“People should know how to plant vegetables – like tomatoes, eggplant, pepper and string beans – in pots, and recycle containers for planting,” she said. “This would at least ensure where your food comes from because you source your meals from your own garden.”

More than 200 farmer-members of SARILAYA – mostly across Luzon, one of the three major islands in the Philippines – practice organic agriculture, believing it to be the best guarantee of their families’ health in the era of processed foods, GMOs and synthetic products.

Geaga said Filipino women, including the ones staying at home and raising their children, are at the forefront of these consumer and environment advocacy efforts.

Citing studies by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute and the University of the Philippines, she pointed out that poor families spend 70 percent more on purchasing infant formulas than other needs in the household and that youth in the 16-20 age-group consume fast food products heavy in fat, cholesterol and sodium on a daily basis.

Such statistics are not just numbers on a page – they are the reason scores of women across the Philippines are doubling up as scientists, farmers and activists so that they and their families can be a little healthier, and perhaps live a little longer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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UNDP Unveils Blueprint for Swift, Unified Crisis Responsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 20:54:12 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139777 Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has announced a new 10-year global plan to support country efforts to reduce the risk of disasters that kill people and destroy livelihoods. The plan was unveiled at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which ended on Mar. 18.

“Called ‘5-10-50’, the programme will support countries and communities to deliver better risk-informed development, and targets 50 countries over 10 years, with a focus on five critical areas: risk awareness and early warning; risk-governance and mainstreaming; preparedness; resilient recovery; and local/urban risk reduction,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said at a special event on Mar. 17 in Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster."It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population." -- Izumi Nakamitsu

The UNDP also launched a new report at Sendai, titled ‘Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance: UNDP Support during the HFA Implementation Period 2005 – 2015’.

The report is a review of UNDP support in 125 disaster-prone countries since 2005, and draws on detailed findings from a selection of 17 countries. The findings from the report are to be used in the development of the new programme.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview in which the UNDP Assistant Administrator Izumi Nakamitsu, who heads the agency’s Crisis Response Unit, explains what this Unit in particular and the agency in general are doing to reduce disaster risk (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York):

IPS: What was the idea behind setting up the Crisis Response Unit, and what does it do?

Izumi Nakamitsu (IN): UNDP is obviously a development cooperation organisation. But if you look at the world, there are so many crises. We have to make sure we become, or are, a development cooperation organisation that can also respond to crises properly and fast. If you can respond quickly to crises, you can from the start put perspectives of early recovery and also resilience. We can actually become much more strategic in the way the international community can actually respond to crises.

You hear this terminology of ‘fit for purpose.’ U.N. organisations need to change with the changing environment and context. That was the reasoning behind this rather dramatic restructuring of UNDP (in October 2014). As one of the outcomes, it’s not the only one, is a new entity called the crisis response unit.

We make sure UNDP actually takes a whole of UNDP approach. The crisis response perspectives and early recovery perspectives are integrated into everything that we do in development work. Our role is to make sure that, by becoming a sort of crisis coordinator, different parts of UNDP will be responding collectively so that we actually take the whole of UNDP approach.

I should also emphasise it’s not just a natural disaster context. In fact, if you look at the number of victims of humanitarian crises, 70-80 percent are in a conflict setting. It’s much more complicated to respond to that sort of crisis.

IPS: So disaster risk reduction is one complement of your activities?

IN: Risk reduction perspective has to be integrated into everything we do. The whole development actions will have to be risk-informed. All parts of UNDP are integrating perspectives.

It’s not just my little unit that coordinates and manages a crisis response, but there’s a large team that is specifically looking at how to mainstream DRR (disaster risk reduction) perspectives into everything UNDP does. It’s not just the crisis context. It has to be part of normal development work.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population. We think it makes sense to integrate and mainstream these DRR perspectives throughout the development process.

IPS: How does the cooperation function in this case?

IN: Obviously we have to work together. A lot of the risk reduction part is to create a national sort of legal framework on the ground in different countries. We still have very good disaster management law, for example. We have been working quite a lot; in 70-80 percent of our programme countries, UNDP has been part of preparing that legislative framework to properly invest in DRR.

But that’s only the beginning of the work. We have to then create the actual capacities at the country level, so that thIs legislation will actually have an impact in terms of DRR.

IPS: And that’s more difficult?

IN: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. It takes time. It’s about capacity building. For that to happen, we need to have good partners on the ground that are engaged with those stakeholders.

I was meeting with the secretary general of the federation of Red Cross societies, they have huge strength, because they have national chapters, national committees, who will be implementing those things in terms of capacity building. We have been partnering with them also in terms of preparing legislation as well.

The next step is to create capacities on the ground. We’re doing a lot of that. We think it makes sense to invest in those types of activities. We can’t prevent disasters. That is not possible. But if we can minimise the risk, we can manage the impact, then probably much smaller humanitarian interventions would be required. The whole international support will probably become much more sustainable.

IPS: Disaster prone countries lack funds, they also lack technologies. These will have to come from rich and industrialised countries. Isn’t that a problem?

IN: Of course . . . Japan just pledged 4 billion USD during the conference (as a gesture of goodwill). But it’s not just about the amount of money . . .There will have to be an understanding on the part of all governments that they have to invest in building DRR frameworks. They have to invest in building resilience and ensuring that resilience. It’s not just the amount of money but how you spend it.

IPS: It’s the old debate, the effectiveness.

IN: 2015 is a critical year: especially on the eve of (the finance for development meeting in) Addis Ababa, many countries are looking at what it is that they will have to agree. Sendai is the first one.

IPS: What would you suggest developing countries should expect from Addis?

IN: Let’s hope these intergovernmental processes will produce a strong enough policy framework that will actually fully recognise that these are in fact DRR, development concerns, and will be treated as such. Also that the countries will understand, you need to actually make investments in resilience and risk reduction.

But also, for UNDP, it’s very important that policy frameworks will not just be policy frameworks working in abstract. They have to be something that can be implemented in a concrete way on the ground in a country.

We have invested 2 billion USD in the last 10 years in this area, DRR. In terms of implementation capacity, we are the one who will have to actually take those policy frameworks, look at them, and reflect them into our country programmes. Our work will probably be much more intense when these frameworks are ready.

We will have to take them and operationalise them. Those are the hopes. These are all intergovernmental processes. We’re here to support the governments and inform, in our view, what works and what doesn’t work that well. And feeding those perspectives into government delegations in the form of advice.

IPS: We are entering the minefield, where it’s a question of: what does international cooperation achieve?

IN: I think national governments also have a huge responsibility, but that’s why we work with them. We are the largest partner of those governments, especially in DRR areas. I talked about disaster management laws in different countries.

That’s a prime example of governments taking their responsibilities and then creating the capacities to make sure these legislative frameworks will actually have an impact and work with them also. (National) Governments’ responsibilities and our support, they are probably both sides of the same coin.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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U.N. Envoy Pushes for Safer Schools Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 19:30:19 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139771 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

Speaking from the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, defined 2015 as the year to end violations of the rights of the children worldwide.

“It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarization of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace”, Brown said.

The British ex-Prime Minister highlighted the case of South Sudan, saying “The tragedy in South Sudan with schools being militarized and over 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers must be stopped.”

Having recently visited Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, Brown said that the international community should focus on several steps to change the status quo.

Firstly, Brown called for the international community to reach an agreement on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies, to be set before the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July.

Brown also announced his call for a conference in Washington on April 16, on educating the half-million Syrian child refugees in Lebanon. Following an agreement reached with the Lebanese minister of education, the aim is to raise $163m for Lebanese schools to operate on a double-shift system to sustain Syrian children’s schooling.

Thirdly, Brown highlighted the importance of schemes like the Safe Schools Initiative, which has just been launched in Pakistan after initial success in Nigeria. The Pakistani government, in partnership with UNICEF and the Global Business Coalition for Education, will launch safety-assessment technology in around 1000 pilot schools in the country. Soon, the initiative will be extended to countries like South Sudan, Lebanon and the DRC.

In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative has raised $30m, with a large contribution from the United States, said Brown. “Nearly 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures,” he added.

Brown invited all countries to sign the international Safe School Declaration (recognized now by 30 countries), which provides the same protection as Red Cross Hospitals.

In closing, Brown urged the international community to increase funding for education as a percentage of humanitarian aid, which is currently at 1 percent. “Insisting on a new fund for education in emergencies is necessary to prevent millions of children from falling through the cracks,” he said.

“We need to re-address aid funds for education and Sustainable Development Goals through partnership with the private sector, and the use of social impacts bonds.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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World’s Richest One Percent Undermine Fight Against Economic Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/worlds-richest-one-percent-undermine-fight-against-economic-inequalities/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:34:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139765 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The growing economic inequalities between rich and poor – and the lopsided concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s one percent – are undermining international efforts to fight global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice, according to a civil society alliance.

Comprising ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus, the group of widely-known non-governmental organisations (NGO) and global charities warn about the widening gap and imbalance of power between the world’s richest and the rest of the population, which they say, is “warping the rules and policies that affect society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence.”"Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. " -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The group identifies a list of key concerns – including tax avoidance, wealth inequality and lack of access to healthcare – as being unduly influenced by the world’s wealthiest one percent.

In a statement released Thursday, on the eve of the World Social Forum (WSF) scheduled to take place in Tunis Mar. 24-28, the group argues the concentration of wealth and power is now a critical and binding factor that must be challenged “if we are to create lasting solutions to poverty and climate change.”

The statement – signed by the chief executives of the four organisations – says: “We cannot rely on technological fixes. We cannot rely on the market. And we cannot rely on the global elites. We need to help strengthen the power of the people to challenge the people with power.”

“Securing a just and sustainable world means challenging the power of the one percent,” the group says.

The signatories include Adriano Campolina of ActionAid, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Civicus, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam.

Asked about the impact of economic inequalities on the implementation of the U.N.’s highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ben Phillips, campaigns and policy director at ActionAid International, told IPS economic inequalities have meant that in many countries progress on poverty reduction has been much slower than it would have been if growth had been more equal.

For example, he said, Zambia has moved from being a poor country (officially) to being (officially) middle income. Yet during that time the absolute number of poor people has increased.

India’s persistently high child malnutrition rate and South Africa’s persistently high mortality rate are functions of an insufficient focus on inequality, he added.

Papua New Guinea has the highest growth in the world this year and won’t meet any MDG, because the proceeds of growth are so unequally shared, he pointed out.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society alliance, Phillips said inequality has also been the great blind spot of the MDGs – even when countries have met the MDGs they have often done so in a way that has left behind the poorest people – so goals like reducing maternal and infant mortality have been met in several countries in ways that have left those at the bottom of the pile with little or no improvement.

The four signatories say: “We will work together with others to tackle the root causes of inequality. We will press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The statement also says that global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights, and promote fair and dignified employment are all being undermined as a consequence of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

“Decisions are being shaped in the narrow interests of the richest, at the expense of the people as a whole,” it says.

“The economic, ecological and human rights crises we face are intertwined and reinforcing. The influence of the one percent has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,” the group warns.

“Faced with this challenge, we need to go beyond tinkering, and address the structural causes of inequality: we cannot rely on technological fixes – there is no app for this; we cannot rely on the market – unchecked it will worsen inequality and climate change; and we cannot rely on the global elites – left alone they will continue to reinforce the structures and approaches that have led to where we are”.

People’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial to change the power inequalities that are leading to worsening rights violations and inequality, the group says.

However, in all regions of the world, the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being curtailed by repressive action defending the privileged.

“We therefore pledge to work together locally, nationally and internationally, alongside others, to uphold and defend universal human rights and protect civil society space. A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account.”

Phillips told IPS even the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September, will not be achievable if economic inequalities continue.

As leading economist Andy Sumner of King’s College, London has demonstrated, “we find in our number-crunching that poverty can only be ended if inequality falls.” Additionally, healthy, liveable societies depend on government action to limit inequality.

It is also a question of voice, and power. In the words of Harry Belafonte, a Hollywood celebrity and political activist: “The concentration of money in the hands of a small group is the most dangerous thing that happened to civilization.”

Or as Jeff Sachs, a widely respected development expert and professor at Columbia University, has noted: “Corporations write the rules, pay the politicians, sometimes illegally and sometimes, via what is called legal, which is financing their campaigns or massive lobbying. This has got completely out of control and is leading to the breakdown of modern democracy.”

Phillips said tackling inequality is core to progress on tackling poverty – both because extreme and growing economic inequality will undermine poverty reduction and because the warping of power towards the one percent is shifting the focus of governments away from their citizens and towards corporations.

“Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. We need to shift power away from the one percent and towards the rest of society, to prevent all decisions being made in the narrow interests of a privileged few,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Key to Preventing Disasters Lies in Understanding Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:56:30 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139742 Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded on Wednesday after a long drawn-out round of final negotiations, with representatives of 187 U.N. member states finally agreeing on what is being described as a far-reaching new framework for the next 15 years: 2015-2030.

But whether the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) heralds the dawn of a new era – fulfilling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expectation on the opening day of the conference on Mar. 14 that “sustainability starts in Sendai” – remains to be seen."I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society." -- Margareta Wahlström

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has emphasised that the new framework “opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health”.

But she warned on Wednesday that implementation of the new framework “will require strong commitment and political leadership and will be vital to the achievement of future agreements on sustainable development goals [in September] and climate later this year [in December in Paris]”.

The new framework outlines seven global targets and four priorities.

The global targets to be achieved over the next 15 years are: “a substantial reduction in global disaster mortality; a substantial reduction in numbers of affected people; a reduction in economic losses in relation to global GDP; substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities; an increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020; enhanced international cooperation; and increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.”

The four priorities for action are focussed on a better understanding of risk, strengthened disaster risk governance and more investment. A final priority calls for more effective disaster preparedness and embedding the ‘build back better’ principle into recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview with UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström on Mar. 16 during which she explained the nitty-gritty of DRR. (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York.):

IPS: Do you think this conference would come out with solutions to reduce disaster risk?

Margareta Wahlström (MW): The conference and the collective experience has got all the solutions. That’s not really our problem. Our problem is to make a convincing argument for applying the knowledge we already have. It has to do with individuals, with society, with business, et cetera. Not to make it an oversimplified agenda, because it’s quite complex.

If you really want to reduce risks sustainably, you have to look at many different sectors, and not individually, but they have to work together. I can see myself, I can hear, there has been a lot of progress over this 10 years.

One of the critical thresholds to cross is moving from the disaster to the risk understanding. I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society.

That’s what this conference is about. As much as it is about negotiating a document, now laying the ground for work in the coming decades, it is also about people learning very rapidly from each other, allowing themselves to be inspired.

IPS: An important issue is resilience. The poor and vulnerable have always shown resilience. But what we need to strengthen their resilience is money (finance for development) and technology. Do you see these two things happening as a result of this conference?

MW: Not only because of the conference. If anything, the conference will up the priorities, increase the understanding of the necessary integration of planning. In any case, historical experience shows the most critical foundation stone for resilience is social development and economic development. People need to be healthy, well educated, have choices, have jobs. With that follows, of course, in a way, new risks, as we know. Lifestyle risks.

I think the technology is there. The issue of technology is more its availability, that can be an issue of money but it can also an issue of capacity on how to use technology. Which, for many countries and individuals, is really an issue. We need to look at ourselves. The evolution of technology is faster than people’s ability to use it.

Financial resources to acquire it can definitely be a limitation, but an even bigger limitation in many cases is capacity. If you think of money in terms of government’s own investments, which is the most critical one, I think we will see that increasing, as the understanding of what it is you do when you build for resilience, that means risk sensitive infrastructure, risk sensitive agriculture, water management systems. It’s not a standalone issue.

I think we will see an increase in investment. Investment for individuals, for the social side of resilience, in particular the focus on the most poor people, will require a more clear cut decision of policy direction, which can very probably be helped by the agreement later in this year hopefully on the post-2015 universal development agenda. That will, at best, help to put the focus on what needs to be done to continue the very strong focus on poverty reduction.

IPS: Do you think the issue of ODA (official development assistance) has any relevance these days?

MW: In terms of its size and scale, probably not, compared to foreign direct investments, private sector growth. But of course it’s got an enormous important symbolic value, and political value, as a concrete expression of solidarity.

Nevertheless to be very, very fair, still there are a number of countries that depend a lot on ODA, 30-40 percent of their GDP is still based on ODA in one form or the other. Which is probably not that healthy in terms of their policy choices at the end of the day, but that is the current economic reality. Really the need for economic development, the type of investments that stimulate countries’ own economic growth, people’s growth, need to remain a very critical priority.

That’s why I think you see, both in the SDGs discussion and this discussion, such a strong emphasis on the national resource base as the foundation, including for international cooperation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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Middle Income Nations Home to Half the World’s Hungryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-income-nations-home-to-half-the-worlds-hungry/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:28:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139734 In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nearly half of the world’s hungry, amounting to about 363 million people, live in some of the rising middle income countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) calls on these developing nations, described as “rising economic powerhouses,” to reshape their food systems to focus on nutrition and health, close the gender gap in agriculture, and improve rural infrastructure to ensure food security for all.“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the quality of caregiving, among others.” -- Shenggen Fan

“It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI.

The report traces the link between sanitation and nutrition, with findings in Bangladesh that show “dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children.”

The research also found that “Bangladeshi children living in places where open defecation had been reduced were taller than children in neighboring West Bengal, India, where open defecation is still common, even at the same levels of economic wealth.”

“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the qual­ity of caregiving, among others,” Fan said.

The study also finds strong evidence that food insecurity was a contributing factor to instability in the Middle East.

Additionally, it draws attention to the pressing need to regulate food production to prevent food-borne diseases, help small family farmers move up by increasing their incomes or move out to non-farm employment, improve social protection for the rural poor, and support the role of small-scale fishers in satisfying the global demand for fish.

Asked specifically about the impact of Middle East conflicts on food security, Clemens Breisinger, a senior research fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance division at IFPRI, told IPS food insecurity is quite obviously often a consequence of political instability and conflict.

As such, he said, the number of food insecure people has risen in many Arab countries since 2011, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (three countries ravaged by political turmoil).

“But new research shows that food insecurity can also fuel conflicts, particularly in countries that are net food importing countries and thus vulnerable to global food price shocks,” Breisinger said.

He pointed out Arab countries import about 50 percent of their food and were thus hard hit by the global food price spikes in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Imed Drine, a senior economist at the Islamic Development Bank, says the slump in oil prices continues to upend the global economy and experts believe this is likely to last for several years.

Oil prices dropped by about 50 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the first month of 2015, the second largest annual decline ever where the falling oil prices have helped to push food prices down, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Of the regions affected by these declining oil prices, said Drine in a blog post, the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is affected the most.

That is due to the fact that the majority of its countries depend on oil revenues for growth and because it is the most food imports-dependent region where food dependency ratios exceed 50 percent on average.

Drine says the strong relationship between oil and food prices may be explained by a key fact: “Our modern global food system is highly oil-dependent.”

Oil is the key fuel for production and for transporting food from field to market, and fuel costs, he said, make up as much as 50 to 60 per cent of total shipping costs.

In addition, energy related costs such as fertilisers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel account for close to 50 percent of the production costs for crops such as corn and wheat in some developed countries.

“As a result, declining oil prices will have a direct influence on production costs,” he added.

Furthermore, grain prices have become increasingly linked to the movement of oil markets since more corn is being diverted to biofuel production.

Generally, as demand for these alternative fuels decreases, crop prices are forced down, making food more affordable, Drine added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Veto Costs Lives as Syrian Civil War Passes Deadly Milestonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:27:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139703 The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As the long drawn-out Syrian military conflict passed a four-year milestone over the weekend, the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) summed it up in a striking headline: 4 years, 4 vetoes, 220,000 dead.

It was a harsh judgment of the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful political body at the United Nations, which critics say is desperately in need of a resurrection."Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history." -- Dr. Simon Adams

The devastating civil war and the sectarian violence in Syria have also displaced over 11 million people – more than half of Syria’s population – with 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for R2P, told IPS Syria is clearly the most tragic failure of the U.N. Security Council in a generation.

“Each veto and the inaction of the Council has been interpreted as a license to kill by atrocity perpetrators in Syria,” he added.

The four vetoes, cast by Russia and China to protect the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were cast in October 2011, February 2012, July 2012 and May 2014.

Dr. Adams said 220,000 dead is a horrifying indictment of the magnitude of the Security Council’s failure in Syria. “They constitute 220,000 reasons why we need reform of the veto rights of the five permanent members when it comes to mass atrocity crimes.”

The five (P-5) holding veto powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and each of them has exercised the veto mostly to protect their close allies or their national interests over the years.

Since the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago, the two big powers have cast the most number of vetoes: a total of 79 by the United States and 11 by the Russian Federation (plus 90 by its predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), while China’s tally is nine, according to the latest available figures.

“The veto costs lives. Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history. They have a responsibility to protect and a responsibility not to veto,” Dr. Adams said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently called for a political solution, said the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.

They and their neighbours, he said, continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community that is divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.

Retracing the violent history of the ongoing conflict, Ban recalled that it began in March 2011, when thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.

But this legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold, he added.

In what appeared to be a diplomatic turnaround, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not ruled out a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” he said during a television interview Sunday, although the U.S. has been supporting rebel forces trying to overthrow the Assad regime by military means.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, a Hollywood celebrity and Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “People are entitled to feel bewildered and angry that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to respond to the worst crisis of the 21st century.”

She said it is shameful that even the basic demand for full humanitarian access has not been met.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries and international humanitarian agencies are being stretched beyond their limits.

“And it is sickening that crimes are being committed against the Syrian people on a daily basis with impunity. The failure to end this crisis diminishes all of us,” Jolie declared.

Ban said the lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

Each day, he said, brings reports of fresh horrors: executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Daesh (the Islamic State) and other extremist groups.

Dr. Adams told IPS President Assad and all atrocity perpetrators in Syria belong in handcuffs at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“The U.N. Security Council has failed to end a conflict that has already cost 220,000 lives, but the least they can do now is refer the situation to the ICC so that victims have some chance of justice,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139694 The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sendai Conference Stresses Importance of Women’s Leadershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-stresses-importance-of-womens-leadership/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 19:59:01 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139690 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Jamshed Baruah/IPS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Women play a critical role in reducing disaster risk and planning and decision-making during and after disasters strike, according to senior United Nations, government and civil society representatives.

In fact, efforts at reducing risks can never be fully effective or sustainable if the needs and voices of women are ignored, they agreed.WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

Even at risk of their own health and well-being, women are most heavily impacted but often overcome immense obstacles to lead response efforts and provide care and support to those hit hard by disasters, said participants in a high-level multi-stakeholder Partnership Dialogue during the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan, from Mar. 14 to 18.

Participants in the conference’s first of several intergovernmental high-level partnership dialogues, on ‘Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction’, included the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In an interview with IPS, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said the Sendai Conference offers “a new opportunity for the world to galvanise around a common disaster risk reduction agenda and commit to collective actions that put women at its centre”.

The fact that serious gaps remain in the area is not for lack of guidance and tools on relevant gender-based approaches and best practices. What is needed is requisite political will to make sure that women’s voices were enhanced and participation ensured. All such efforts must bolster women’s rights, included sexual and reproductive health rights, he said.

Osotimehin pleaded for key actions at all levels, and stressed that dedicated resources are lacking and as such, money must be devoted to disaster risk reduction and women must be empowered to play a real role in that area.

He pointed out that sustained and sustainable disaster risk reduction requires an accountability framework with indicators and targets to measure progress and ensure that national and local actors move towards implementation.

A physician and public health expert, before Osotimehin became UNFPA chief in January 2011 in the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS, which coordinates HIV and AIDS work in a country of about 180 million people.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

As several other speakers and heads of governments also emphasised in several other fora, Cousin said the WCDRR is the first of a crucial series of U.N.-backed conferences and meetings set for 2015 respectively on development financing, sustainable development and climate change, all aimed at ensuring a safer and more prosperous world for all.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed similar sentiments in a keynote address. He said that Japan had long understood the importance of enhancing the voice, visibility and participation of women.

For example, if a disaster struck during the middle of the day, most of the people at home would be women so their perspective is essential “absolutely essential for restoring devastated”.

“’No matter how much the ground shakes, we will remain calm in our hearts,’” said Prime Minister Abe, quoting the powerful words of women in one of the districts he had visited in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and pledging Japan’s ongoing strong commitment to ensuring all women played a greater role in disaster risk reduction.

Abe announced that boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support.

He said: “Today I announced Japan’s new cooperation initiative for disaster risk reduction. Under this initiative, over the next four years, Japan will train 40,000 officials and people in local regions around the world as leaders who will play key roles in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction.

“One of the major projects that will be undertaken through this initiative is the launch of the Training to Promote Leadership by Women in Disaster Risk Reduction. Furthermore, at the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo to be held this summer, one of the themes will be ‘Women and Disaster Risk Reduction’.”

Abe said, “We are launching concrete projects in nations around the world” and would build on existing efforts to promote women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction in such partner countries as Fiji, Solomon Islands, and other Pacific island nations.

“We have dispatched experts in the field of community disaster risk reduction to conduct training focusing on women over a three-year period … Now these women have become leaders and are carrying on their own activities to spread knowledge about disaster risk reduction to other women in their communities,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cyclone Pam Prompts Action for Vanuatu at Sendai Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cyclone-pam-prompts-action-for-vanuatu-at-sendai-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-pam-prompts-action-for-vanuatu-at-sendai-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cyclone-pam-prompts-action-for-vanuatu-at-sendai-conference/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 08:46:09 +0000 Jamshed Baruah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139669 View of the Third World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendau, Japan. Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale told delegates he was attending because the Pacific island, hit by Cyclone Pam in early March, “wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change". Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

View of the Third World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendau, Japan. Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale told delegates he was attending because the Pacific island, hit by Cyclone Pam in early March, “wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change". Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

By Jamshed Baruah
SENDAI, Japan , Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Cyclone Pam has not only caused unprecedented damages to the Pacific island of Vanuatu but also lent urgency to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea that disaster risk reduction is in “everybody’s interest”.

“Sustainability starts in Sendai,” Ban declared at the opening of the Third World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), the largest-ever high-level meeting on the theme, which kicked off on Mar. 14 in Sendai, the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

The conference is expected to conclude with the adoption on Mar. 18, when WCDRR is scheduled to close, of a new agreement on disaster risk reduction, which will provide guidance on how to reduce mortality and economic losses from disasters.“Disaster risk reduction advances progress on sustainable development and climate change [which] is intensifying the risks for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in small island developing states and coastal areas” – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“This is the first stop on our journey to a new future to put our people of the world and this world onto a sustainable path,” Ban told government leaders and civil society representatives from around the world.

“Disaster risk reduction advances progress on sustainable development and climate change,” Ban said, adding that “climate change is intensifying the risks for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in small island developing states and coastal areas.”

Experts consider climate change as the cause for the increasingly unpredictable pattern of cyclonic activity affecting Vanuatu in recent years.

“I speak to you today with a heart that is so heavy,” said Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale addressing the opening session, visibly fighting back his tears. “I stand to ask you to give a lending hand in responding to this calamity that has struck us.”

This is indeed a major calamity for the Pacific island nation. Every year it loses six percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to disasters. “This cyclone is a huge setback for the country’s development. It will have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing,” said Lonsdale.

“The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels, in addition to five active volcanos and earthquakes. This is why I am attending this conference and why Vanuatu wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change.”

As Vanuata reeled under the impact of the cyclone, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of japan pledged four billion dollars in disaster prevention aid, mainly for developing countries.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an initiative on Mar. 15 to scale up community and civic action on resilience, the so-called ‘One Billion Coalition for Resilience’.

The IFRC has committed itself to mobilising its network of 189 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and 17 million volunteers around the world to increase different services that link disaster preparedness, emergency response and longer term recovery needs of local communities.

The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, commended the IFRC’s efforts to galvanise actions toward making communities more resilient.

“We need to scale up our collective efforts to make sure that hazards don’t become disasters, and we will only be able to achieve this by building alliances at every level,” she said. ”Only in partnership can we contribute to transforming the lives of the most vulnerable people and support their efforts in building stronger communities.”

Apparently realising the need of the hour, top insurers from around the world have called on governments to step up global efforts to build resilience against natural disasters, highlighting that average economic losses from disasters in the last decade have amounted to around 190 billion dollars annually, while average insured losses were at about 60 billion dollars.

A ‘United for Disaster Resilience Statement’ was released Mar. 14 by top insurance companies, members of the UNEP Finance Initiatives’ Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI), the largest collaborative initiative between the United Nations and the insurance industry. PSI is backed by insurers representing about 15 percent of the world’s premium volume and nine trillion dollars in assets under its management.

The statement urges governments to adopt the U.N. Post-2015 Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, emphasising that the insurance industry is well placed to understand the economic and social impact of disasters given that its core business is to understand, manage and carry risk.

Lauding the initiative, Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “The vision and initiative demonstrated by the insurance industry – from the launch of the landmark Principles for Sustainable Insurance at the Rio+20 conference to the strong, united commitments made here in Sendai – provide inspiration and a way forward.”

Another PSI initiative launched in Sendai called on individual insurance organisations to help implement the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction by making voluntary, specific, measurable and time-bound commitments.

The voluntary commitments will follow the global framework afforded by the four Principles for Sustainable Insurance, and will show concrete actions that build disaster resilience, and promote economic, social and environmental sustainability.

These commitments will be aggregated and promoted en route to a major UNEP and insurance industry event in May this year, which will be hosted by the global reinsurer, Swiss Re.

The commitments will also be promoted by the PSI at the Global Insurance Forum of the International Insurance Society in New York in June. The forum will include a dedicated day at the U.N. headquarters for insurance industry leaders and U.N. officials to address sustainable development challenges and opportunities, from climate change and disaster risk, to financial inclusion and ageing populations.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Empower Rural Women for Their Dignity and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/empower-rural-women-for-their-dignity-and-future/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 12:57:26 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139657 A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Mar 14 2015 (IPS)

Rural women make major contributions to rural economies by producing and processing food, feeding and caring for families, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households – but, in many countries, they face discrimination in access to agricultural assets, education, healthcare and employment, among others, preventing them from fully enjoying their basic rights.

Gender equality is now widely recognised as an essential component for sustainable development goals in the post-2015 agenda, with empowerment of rural women vital to enabling poor people to improve their livelihoods and overcome poverty.“To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities” – IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze

This year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on Mar. 8, marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which called on governments, the international community and civil society from all over the world to empower women and girls by taking action in 12 critical areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child.

Despite that call, much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation.

“Too often, rural women are doing the backbreaking work,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said on the occasion. “To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities.”

This year, the three Rome-based U.N. agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and IFAD – along with journalists and students from Rome’s LUISS, John Cabot and La Sapienza universities met to share testimonials of innovative interventions aimed at empowering rural women in four key areas: nutrition, community mobilisation, livestock and land rights.

A large body of research indicates that putting more income into the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition health and education in all developing regions of the world.

Explaining why women and men need to be involved together to move forward on nutrition, Britta Schumacher, a WFP Programme Policy Officer, described how the Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition (REACH) programme had been able to tackle malnutrition and health problems using an approach based on positive gender-oriented objectives.

The REACH programme – a joint initiative of FAO, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is based on the human right to nutrition security and seeks to transform the way governments and donors approach investment in nutrition to leverage existing investments most effectively and systematically identify priorities for additional investments needed to scale up.

Noting that “the long girls stay at school, the better is their health” because “lack of awareness represents a concrete obstacle to good practices,” Schumacher said that in Bangladesh activities had been carried out under the REACH programme to transfer knowledge within and between members of communities and local authorities, boost rural women’s access to services and strengthen their self-esteem. 

Stressing the need for community mobilisation, Andrea Sanchez Enciso, Gender and Participatory Communication Specialist with FAO, illustrated one of the achievements of FAO’s Dimitra project, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, women in particular.

In Niger, she said, “the Dimitra project encouraged the inclusion of a gender perspective in communication for development initiatives in rural areas … taking greater account of the specificities, needs and aspirations of men and women” and “creating participatory spaces for discussion between men and women, access to information and collective actions in their communities.”

Leading a two-year small livestock project in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Antonio Riota, Lead Technical Specialist in IFAD’s Livestock, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, said that the project was developed and implemented in a context in which 90 percent of village chickens were managed by women and poultry was the only source of income for the entire community.

According to Riota, the project showed how small livestock can make a difference in rural women’s lives because one of its major results has been that “now women can walk all together” whereas previously they were accused of prostitution if they did so. “Some 75,000 women benefitted from the project and profitability increased by 91 percent,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mino Ramaroson, Africa Regional Coordinator at the International Land Coalition, described two African experiences of women’s networks – the National Federation of Rural Women in Madagascar and the Kilimanjaro Initiative – advocating for their rights to land and natural resources.

In Madagascar, the National Federation of Rural Women, which aims to promote rural women’s rights, improve members’ livelihoods and increase their resilience to external and internal shocks, has been joined by more than 450 rural women’s groups from the country’s six provinces.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative, initiated by rural women in 2012 and supported by the International Land Coalition, uses women’s rights to land and productive resources as an entry point for the mobilisation of rural women from across Africa to define the future they want, claim lives of dignity they deserve and identify and overcome the challenges that hold them back.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Sendai Conference to Move From Managing Disasters to Risk Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/sendai-conference-to-move-from-managing-disasters-to-risk-prevention/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 19:32:50 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139644 Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

Sendai, Japan, hosts the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR). Credit: UN Photo

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

As the world inched towards a crucial United Nations Conference in Sendai, Japan, Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), assured that there was “general agreement” on the need to “move from managing disasters to managing disaster risk”. 

The rationale behind that understanding, she said, is: “If the world is successful in tackling the underlying drivers of risk such as poverty, climate change, the decline of protective eco-systems, uncontrolled urbanisation and land use the result will be a much more resilient planet. The framework will help to reducing existing levels of risk and avoid the creation of new risk.”The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014.

Echoing the UNISDR head’s sentiments, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) President Saber Hossain Chowdhury pleaded for “a good start” in Sendai as the international community moves towards “the year for sustainable development”.

The U.N. General Assembly will in September endorse a wide-ranging set of Sustainable Goals (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Develo0ment Goals (MDGs) aimed, among others, at halving poverty.

Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, is hosting the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) from Mar. 14 to 18, which is being joined by government leaders and civil society representatives from around the world.

According to the UNISDR, at least 700,000 people have been killed and 1.7 billion affected by disasters worldwide since the last such conference in Kobe, Japan, in 2005. The total economic impact from global disasters stood at 1.4 trillion dollars between 2005 and 2014. The first conference on disaster risk reduction was hosted by Yokohama in Japan in 1994.

Chowdhury said, sustainable development was not possible with the levels of disaster losses increasing. Welcoming the focus on local capacity at the Sendai Conference, he said at a session of parliamentarians on Mar. 13: “Local government is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians have an important role, including helping to increase the allocation of resources to the local level.”

He lauded the long-standing partnership between parliamentarians and UNISDR, citing how the two had co-developed practical tools that were being used by legislators to strengthen disaster resilience at the local and national levels.

Observers noted in this context the voluntary commitment of the government of Nepal to a local disaster reduction management plan.

The WCDRR website reported: “Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development will support the 130 municipalities in the country to prepare the Local Disaster Risks Management Plan. We will do so in cooperation with all stakeholders involved in disaster risks reduction in Nepal that include NGOs. This plan will guide the activities on disaster risks reduction at local level.”

Pakistan announced a commitment to “build the capacity of 20 master trainers on disability inclusive DRR (disaster risk reduction); influence 100 humanitarian projects through grassroots level technical training; and training of 150 key humanitarian actors on disability inclusive DRR.”

Ahead of the opening of the Conference, government representatives discussed on Mar. 13 the text of the post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction to be adopted on Mar. 18, the closing day of the conference.

According to the draft text, the Sendai conference would declare it as “urgent and critical to anticipate, plan for and act on risk scenarios over at least the next 50 years to protect more effectively human beings and their assets, and ecosystems”.

The text of the post-2015 Framework calls for “a broader and a more people-centred preventive approach to disaster risk”, stressing the importance of “enhanced work to address exposure and vulnerability and ensure accountability for risk creation” at all levels.

The text expected to be adapted says: “Given their differential capacities, developing countries require enhanced global partnership for development, adequate provision and mobilization of all means of implementation and continued international support to reduce disaster risk.”

The draft notes that enhanced North-South cooperation complemented by South-South cooperation and triangular cooperation has proved to be “key to reduce disaster risk”, that “there is a need to strengthen them further”.

It adds: “Partnerships will play an important role by harnessing the full potential of engagement between governments at all levels, businesses, civil society and a wide range of other stakeholders, and are effective instruments for mobilizing human and financial resources, expertise, technology and knowledge and can be powerful drivers for change, innovation and welfare.”

Addressing the oft-controversial issues of financing and technology transfer, the draft says: “Developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked developing countries, and Africa require predictable, adequate, sustainable and coordinated international assistance, through bilateral and multilateral channels, for the development and strengthening of their capacities, including through financial and technical assistance, and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms.”

It also pleads for enhanced access to, and transfer of, environmentally sound technology, science and innovation as well as knowledge and information sharing through existing mechanisms, such as bilateral, regional and multilateral collaborative arrangements, including the United Nations and other relevant bodies.

Further: States and regional and international organisations, including the United Nations and international financial institutions, are called upon to integrate disaster risk reduction considerations into their sustainable development policy, planning and programming at all levels.

States and regional and international organisations are urged to foster greater strategic coordination among the United Nations, other international organisations, including international financial institutions, regional bodies, donor agencies and nongovernmental organisations engaged in disaster risk reduction.

The draft text also calls for adequate voluntary financial contributions to be provided to the United Nations Trust Fund for Disaster Reduction, in an effort to ensure adequate support for the follow-up activities to this framework.

“The current usage and feasibility for the expansion of this Fund should be reviewed, inter alia, to assist disaster-prone developing countries to set up national strategies for disaster risk reduction,” adds the draft scheduled to be adopted by the Sendai conference.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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