Inter Press Service » Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:52:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:03:47 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137841 Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:51:01 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137790 Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137787 School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War-ravaged South Sudan Struggles to Contain AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:01:03 +0000 Charlton Doki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137757 Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a flowered African print kitenge and a blue head scarf, Sabur Samson, 27, sits pensively at the HIV centre at Maridi Civil Hospital in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. 

Today she paid 20 South Sudanese pounds (about six dollars) for a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) ride to the centre and will have to skimp on food in the next days.

South Sudan at a quick glance

After four decades of on-off war, South Sudan gained independence from north Sudan in July 2011. But stability did not last long.

Violence rooted in political and ethnical power struggles erupted in December 2013, shattering the dreams of peace for the world’s newest country (pop 11.3m).

After independence, South Sudan improved services for its estimated 150,000 people living with HIV. The new conflict reversed these gains, disrupting not only health services but water and sanitation, roads and bridges, food security and community networks.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people are newly displaced. Some fled to neighbouring countries, while 1.4 million huddle in 130 camps in South Sudan. Of these, 70 are so remote they are inaccessible to relief agencies, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

South Sudan has limited human resources, organisational and technical capacity to respond to HIV, says the study.

Key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Sudan include early age at first sex, low level of knowledge about HIV and of condom use, rape and gender-based sexual violence, high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.

The highest HIV prevalence is found in the three southern Greater Equatoria states bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Equatoria, where Samson and Mongo live, HIV prevalence is seven percent, more than double the national rate.

She will be hungry and few will help her in the village, although she is blind and a single mother of two children.

“Many people fear to come close because they fear they will contract HIV,” she told IPS.

Seated next to her, Khamis Mongo, 32, has lived with HIV for five years now and has suffered similar rejection. “Some people don’t want to eat from the same plate with me,” he says.

Mongo and Samson are among nearly 1,000 HIV positive people receiving care at the centre, of whom 250 are in antiretroviral therapy (ART). They are lucky: in South Sudan, just one out of 10 people needing ART gets it.

The clinic sees patients coming from as far as 100 kilometres.

“So many patients are dying because they can’t afford transport to collect their medicine here,” clinical officer Suzie Luka told IPS.

A one-way, 80 km bodaboda trip from Ibba to Maridi costs 150 South Sudanese pounds (47 dollars).

The challenges in Maridi are a microcosm of those that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, faces in containing the HIV epidemic.

Newly independent from north Sudan in 2011, and emerging from Africa’s longest civil war over 21 years with one of the world’s lowest human development statistics, South Sudan plunged again into fighting in December 2013.

The national HIV prevalence rate is under three percent and rising steadily, according to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

This translates into 150,000 people living with HIV in a country whose social fabric and physical infrastructure was destroyed by successive wars.

 “Moving corpses”

Evelyn Letio, from the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV, describes poor access, quality and continuity of health services, underpinned by denial of the disease and high stigma and discrimination, especially against women.

“Community leaders will hurriedly accept a divorce if it’s the woman who is positive and force her to leave the man’s house,” says Letio.”If it’s the man who is positive, they won’t allow the woman to leave the house so she can take care of him.”

Despite denial by government officials, discrimination is rampant within the civil service, she adds:  “People who have disclosed to be HIV positive are laid off and called ’moving corpses’.”

Inadequate financial, infrastructural and human resources limit efforts to expand HIV services.  The national HIV plan has an 80 percent funding shortfall.

Mongo and Sanson told IPS that the Maridi clinic often runs out of drugs and they have to return days later. Other times, staff has not been paid for months and stays away.

“Treatment has been tricky,” acknowledges Habib Daffalla Awongo, director general for programme coordination at South Sudan AIDS Commission.

According to UNAIDS, just 22 centres provided ART before the new outbreak of violence.

Last December, the ART centres in Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, capitals of the states worst hit by fighting, had to close. The whereabouts of 1,140 patients are unknown. Most likely they have interrupted ART, endangering their lives.

War and AIDS

Forty thousand people living with HIV have been directly affected by the recent violence, according to the United Nations. The new fighting reversed the gains made in HIV services since independence. 

Fast Facts About AIDS in South Sudan

150,000 people live with HIV
20,000 children under 15 live with HIV
12.500 AIDS-related deaths in 2013
15,400 new infections in 2013
72,000 people need ART
1 in 10 people needing ART is on ART
1 in 10 HIV positive pregnant women is on PMTCT
27 percent of people over 15 years are literate
1.9m internally displaced people in 2014

“We have lost many HIV positive people during the conflict, some died in the fighting and others migrated to peaceful areas,” said Awongo.

By U.N. counts,  the new conflict has displaced 1.9 million people.

In Juba, the capital, camps with long rows of white tents have sprung up to shelter some 31,000 displaced people.

Among them is Taban Khamis*, who escaped fighting in the key oil city of Bentiu, 1,000 kms north of Juba. He has interrupted ART and fears his health will soon worsen but he will not go to the camp’s HV clinic for fear of stigma.

“The camp is crowded and there is no privacy,” he told IPS. “Everyone will know that I have HIV.”

Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections “dramatically increases in camps”, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Awongo is aware of this problem. “We encourage people to come out of the camps to facility points where they can access services but this is not making a difference,” he says.

*Name changed to protect his privacy

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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U.S. Proposes Major Debt Relief for Ebola-Hit Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:16:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137752 An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The United States proposed Tuesday that the international community write off 100 million dollars in debt owed by West African countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak. The money would be re-invested in health and other public programming.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be detailing the proposal later this week to a summit of finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries. If the idea gains traction among G20 states, that support should be enough to approve the measure through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the United States is the largest voting member."The plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.” -- Jubilee USA’s executive director Eric LeCompte

“The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola,” Lew said in a statement to IPS.

“Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.”

These three countries together owe the IMF some 370 million dollars, according to the U.S. Treasury, with 55 million dollars due in the coming two years. Yet there are already widespread fears over the devastating financial ramifications of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in addition to the epidemic’s horrendous social impact.

Last month, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. The World Bank, meanwhile, estimates that the virus, which has already killed more than 5,000 people and infected more than 14,000, could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

Of course, much of the multilateral machinery is often too cumbersome to respond to a fast-moving viral outbreak. Yet there is reason to believe that the U.S. plan could have both immediate and long-term impacts.

That’s because the plan would see the IMF tap a unique fund set up in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which facilitated the cancellation of nearly 270 million dollars of Haitian debt to the IMF. Called the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) Trust, it is aimed specifically at responding to major natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.

Originally, the PCDR Trust was capitalised with more than 420 million dollars. Today, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson told IPS, the trust has some 150 million dollars in it – money that would be available almost immediately.

“Our proposal is for the IMF to provide debt relief for these Ebola-affected nations from this trust,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. would like to see around 100 million dollars put toward this effort, however the precise amount will need to be determined in consultations with the IMF and its membership.”

The IMF, meanwhile, says it is preparing to consider the proposal. In September the Washington-based agency made available 130 million dollars in immediate support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We are very glad that some donors have expressed an interest in increasing support for the Ebola-affected countries. We are reaching out to all donors to see how we might be able to take this forward … using all the tools available to us,” an IMF spokesperson told IPS.

“[Debt relief] decisions are made according to the merits of the particular case and this would be approached in the same way. We would expect the Board to be briefed soon on this topic.”

Ebola’s “natural disaster”

For development and anti-poverty advocates, debt obligations on the part of poor countries constitute a key obstacle to a government’s ability to respond to critical social needs, both in the short and long term.

In the West African epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak, many analysts have held chronic low national health spending directly responsible for allowing the epidemic to spiral out of control. And when looking at feeble public sector spending, it is impossible not to take into account often crushing debt burdens.

For instance, Guinea spent a little more than 100 million dollars on public health in 2012 but paid nearly 150 million dollars that same year on internationally held debt, according to World Bank figures provided by Jubilee USA, an anti-debt advocacy network that has spearheaded the push for the United States to make the current proposal.

“As bad as Ebola has been, some of these countries have far greater challenges with deaths from malaria than from Ebola,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, told IPS.

“The amount is incredibly important because it cancels a significant portion of the debt completely. And the plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.”

LeCompte was also involved in the creation of the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. His office has advocated for the fund’s monies to be used since then – for instance, to react to flooding in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But he says these and other proposals have been rejected by the IMF’s membership, on the rationale that these countries were developed enough to be able to mobilise financing in other ways. (The IMF says PCDR funds are for response to “the most catastrophic of natural disasters” in “low-income countries”, when a third of a country’s population has been affected and a quarter of its production capacity destroyed.)

Not only are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the poorest countries in the world, but the Ebola outbreak there has a potentially direct impact on the rest of the globe.

“This is a very clear opportunity to point to the 150 million dollars left in that fund and to note that Ebola is every bit the same as the Haitian earthquake in terms of being a regional calamity,” LeCompte says.

“The difference is that this is also a long-term investment in the very problems that allow Ebola to spread. So we’d be not only addressing the current issue, but also the next disease outbreak in that region.”

It is unclear whether there is a mechanism in place to top up the PCDR Trust in the future. The IMF states that “Replenishment of the Trust will rely on donor contributions, as necessary.”

But for his part, LeCompte says the fund has the potential to fill a significant gap: offering a pot of money, immediately available, that could be quickly mobilised to deal with true crises afflicting the world’s poorest countries, from hurricanes to major financial defaults.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137746 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137736 An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137720 Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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OPINION: Obstacles to Development Arising from the International Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 09:16:18 +0000 Manuel F. Montes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137705

In this column, Manuel F. Montes, senior advisor on Finance and Development at the South Centre in Geneva, argues that the limited number of successfully developing countries since the 1950s has provoked a debate over whether the success of these countries required their success in eluding international obstacles to development. The question, he says, is to evaluate features of the international system on the basis of how these features are conducive to enabling long-term investment toward economic diversification. This column is based on a more extensive Research Paper* prepared by the author for the South Centre.

By Manuel F. Montes
GENEVA, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

As the international community wades into the political discussions regarding the alternatives to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015 and the design of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as mandated by the Rio+20 conference, it is timely to consider the question of whether development is a matter mostly of individual effort on the part of nation-states or whether there are elements in the international economic system that could serve as significant obstacles to national development efforts.

If there are obstacles in the international economic system, it is important that the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs address the question of the elimination or the reduction of these obstacles.

Manuel F. Montes

Manuel F. Montes

The limited number of successfully developing countries since the 1950s has provoked a debate over whether the success of these countries required their success in eluding international obstacles to development.

The question is to evaluate features of the international system on the basis of how these features are conducive to enabling long-term investment toward economic diversification.

Terminologies of previous development orthodoxies litter the development literature – import substitution, industrialisation, basic needs, structural adjustment, Washington Consensus and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Each of these orthodoxies tended to be a reaction to perceived weaknesses or missing elements from the immediately previous one. The most recent orthodoxy, as exemplified by the MDGs, is that development is about poverty eradication.

But poverty eradication is an overly narrow, possibly misleading, perspective on development.“Poverty eradication is a desired outcome of development but its achievement is permanent only with the movement of a significant proportion of the population from traditional, subsistence jobs to productive, modern employment”

Poverty eradication is a desired outcome of development but its achievement is permanent only with the movement of a significant proportion of the population from traditional, subsistence jobs to productive, modern employment.

The association of development with poverty reduction created for the donor community the pride of place in economic policy in developing countries.

But this place can be at the cost of reducing the responsibility of donor countries in helping to maintain an enabling international environment for development in trade, finance, human resource development and technology.

In the MDGs, these issues are crammed into “MDG-8”, the so-called global partnership for development, with a very selective and poorly defined set of targets.

Development requires not just higher levels of income, nutrition, education, and health outcomes but in the first place involves higher levels of productivity and capabilities.

Higher levels of productivity and capabilities are possible only with structural transformation of the economy.

In turn, in most societies, according to a report by the Secretary-General of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), such a structural transformation has been “associated with a shift of the population from rural to urban areas and a constant reallocation of labour within the urban economy to higher-productivity activities.”

Structural transformation is only possible with substantial and sustained investment over decades in new activities and products, not just in anti-poverty programmes.

Where the international economic system is hostile to investment in new, productivity enhancing economic activities is where its elements create obstacles to development.

One example of an externally based obstacle is aid volatility which has been shown to have highly negative impacts on macroeconomic performance and domestic investment.

Capital and technological investments are required to overcome the enormous productivity gap between developing and developed countries which characterises the world economy.

In 2008, a ratio of the average Gross National Income (GNI) per worker in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) versus those in the least developed countries (LDCs) was 22:1 in favour of the OECD countries.

This imbalance has worsened by a factor of five in comparison to the earliest days of capitalist development. In the nineteenth century, taking the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as the richest countries and Finland and Japan as the poorest, the productivity gap was only between 2 to 1 and 4 to 1.

The international economic system is lacking crucial mechanisms for delivering long-term, stable resources required by developing countries to upgrade their capabilities.

Dependence on commodity exports sustains the productivity gap between developed and developing countries.

Abundant global liquidity and growing trade imbalances fuelled a commodity boom in the 2000s which benefited many developing countries, including many LDCs.

All previous global liquidity booms had ended with serious economic crises in developing countries. The more recent commodity price boom did not introduce an enduring improvement in macroeconomic balances, especially for low-income countries (LICs).

While in the 2000s LDCs experienced the strongest growth rates since 1970s, according to UNCTAD, more than one-quarter of LDCs actually saw GDP per capita decline or grow slowly in the 2002-2007 global boom.

Even the middle income region of Latin America presents evidence of insignificant structural improvement in fiscal and current account balances.

Previous commodity boom periods had similarly not been an occasion for structural change in LDCs. UNCTAD suggests that between the 1970s and 1997, manufacturing as a proportion of GDP increased by less than two percentage points in LDCs as a group, a period which saw various episodes of commodity and global liquidity booms.

When considering LDCs from Africa alone and including Haiti, manufacturing fell from 11 to 8 percent during the same period.

Developing countries had extensively liberalised their trade regimes in the 1980s. In the aftermath, UNCTAD finds that some LDCs have more open trade regimes than other developing countries, and others are more open than even developed countries.

These policies had been intended to facilitate economic diversification. Instead of the expected outcome, greater trade liberalisation has been accompanied by greater concentration in the structure of exports.

The international economic system labours under the constraint that the highest decision-making bodies in key institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), do not provide sufficient voting weight and policy influence to countries most affected by their operations.

One effort under way but under enormous political obstruction is to update voting weights in line with the changed economic structure. Even the G20, where important developing countries sit, has been unable to advance progress. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

*  Click here for the Research Paper on which this column is based.

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U.N. Chief Eyes Upcoming Summits to Resolve Development Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:31:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137713 IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

The continued widespread economic recession – aggravated by the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa – is threatening to undermine the U.N.’s highly-touted post-2015 development agenda.

Still, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is placing his trust and confidence on two key upcoming summit meetings: a G20 gathering of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia later this week, and the International Conference on Financing for Development (ICFD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next July.

In an interview with IPS, just before his departure to Brisbane, he described the G20 as “the world’s primary global economic forum”, while the ICFD, he predicted, will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping sustainable development goals (SDGs).”

Ban has already cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the proposed SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals in September 2015.

In a letter to G20 leaders, he says the successful implementation of the growth and sustainable development agendas will depend largely on mobilising “all sources of financing”.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

The G20, a rare mix of both developed and developing countries, includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the European Union.

Overall, the G20 represents about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade.

The G20 president, this time around Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, usually invites several guest countries to participate in the summit. The presidency rotates on a geographical basis.

The countries which previously hosted the G20 summit include the United States (in 2008 and 2009), the United Kingdom (2009), Canada (2010), the Republic of Korea (2010), France (2011), Mexico (2012) and Russia (2013).

At the meeting in Brisbane Nov. 15-16, Abbott will welcome Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; New Zealand; and Singapore.

The ICFD, scheduled for July 2015, is billed as a U.N. conference and will be attended by all 193 member states.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said official development assistance (ODA), from rich nations to poorer ones, “is necessary but not sufficient.”

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85) and the United Kingdom (0.72) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the millions still living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

Asked about a proposal for innovative sources of financing for development – including a tax on foreign exchange transactions – Ban said he has appointed a former French cabinet minister, Philippe Douster-Blazy, as his special adviser to explore these funding sources.

The proposal for innovative financing was approved at the 2002 ICFD in Mexico and it has raised about 2.0 billion dollars so far.

Ban’s most formidable task will be to ensure that rich countries deliver on their pledges, made in 2009, to provide a staggering 100 billion dollars by 2020 for a Green Climate Fund to prevent the most disastrous consequences of climate change.

“I need at least 10 billion dollars to operationalise the fund,” he said. So far, about 2.5 billion dollars have been made available.

Meanwhile, in his letter to the G20 leaders, Ban says new threats, including geopolitical tensions and the Ebola crisis, “have emerged to create further uncertainty” for the U.N.’s development agenda.

“The G20 Brisbane summit is well timed to provide the leadership that will translate into strong global growth and positive change in people’s lives,” he wrote. “Therefore, I urge you and your fellow leaders to seize the moment in Brisbane and set the stage for success in our shared work to build a more sustainable and prosperous world for all.”

The United Nations, he said, “stands ready to partner with you in your endeavour in Brisbane – and beyond.”

But a lingering question remains: how many of the world leaders will respond to the call?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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A Fair Climate Treaty or None at All, Jamaica Warnshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 19:43:14 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137688 Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

As the clock counts down to the last major climate change meeting of the year, before countries must agree on a definitive new treaty in 2015, a senior United Nations official says members of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) “need to be innovative and think outside the box” if they hope to make progress on key issues.

Dr. Arun Kashyap, U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for Jamaica, said AOSIS has a significant agenda to meet at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Lima, Peru, and “it would be its creativity that would facilitate success in arriving at a consensus on key issues.”"We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do.” -- Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung

Kashyap cited the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their compelling need for adaptation and arriving at a viable mechanism to address Loss and Damage while having enhanced access to finance, technology and capacity development.

“A common agreed upon position that is acceptable across the AOSIS would empower the climate change division (in all SIDS) and reinforce its mandate to integrate implementation of climate change activities in the national development priorities,” Kashyap told IPS.

At COP17, held in Durban, South Africa, governments reached a new agreement to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. They decided that the agreement with legal form would be adopted at COP21 scheduled for Paris in 2015, and parties would have until 2020 to enact domestic legislation for their ratification and entry into force of the treaty.

Decisions taken at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, mandated the 195 parties to start the process for the preparation and submission of “Nationally determined Contributions”. These mitigation commitments are “applicable to all” and will be supported both for preparing a report of the potential activities and their future implementation.

The report should be submitted to the Secretariat during the first quarter of 2015 so as to enable them to be included in the agreement.

AOSIS is an inter-governmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small island countries established in 1990. Its main purpose is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States to address global warming.

In October, Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong, the lead negotiator for AOSIS, outlined priorities ahead of the Dec. 1-12 talks.

She said the 2015 agreement must be a legally binding protocol, applicable to all; ambition should be in line with delivering a long term global goal of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees and need to consider at this session ways to ensure this; mitigation efforts captured in the 2015 agreement must be clearly quantifiable so that we are able to aggregate the efforts of all parties.

Uludong also called for further elaboration of the elements to be included in the 2015 agreement; the identification of the information needed to allow parties to present their intended nationally determined contributions in a manner that facilitates clarity, transparency, and understanding relative to the global goal; and she said finance is a fundamental building block of the 2015 agreement and should complement other necessary means of implementation including transfer of technology and capacity building.

Sixteen Caribbean countries are members of AOSIS. They have been meeting individually to agree on country positions ahead of a meeting in St. Kitts Nov. 19-20 where a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) strategy for the world climate talks is expected to be finalised.

But Jamaica has already signaled its intention to walk out of the negotiations if rich countries are not prepared to agree on a deal which will reduce the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean.

“We have as a red line with respect to our position that if the commitments with respect to reducing greenhouse gases are not of a significant and meaningful amount, then we will not accept the agreement,” Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung, told IPS.

“We will not accept a bad agreement,” he said, explaining that a bad agreement is one that does not speak adequately to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or the provision of financing for poorer countries. It is not yet a CARICOM position, he said, but an option that Jamaica would support if the group was for it.

“We don’t have to be part of the consensus, but we can just walk away from the agreement. We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do,” Mahlung added.

The Lima talks are seen as a bridge to the agreement in 2015.

SIDS are hoping to get developed countries to commit to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but are prepared to accept a 2.0 degrees Celsius rise at the maximum. This will mean that countries will have to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Jamaica’s climate change minister described the December COP20 meeting as “significant,” noting that “the decisions that are expected to be taken in Lima, will, no doubt, have far-reaching implications for the decisions that are anticipated will be taken next year during COP 21 in Paris, when a new climate agreement is expected to be formulated.”

Pickersgill said climate change will have devastating consequences on a global scale even if there are significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change.”

But Pickersgill said there are several challenges for Small Island Developing States like Jamaica to adapt to climate change.

“These include our small size and mountainous terrain, which limits where we can locate critical infrastructure such as airports as well as population centres, and the fact that our main economic activities are conducted within our coastal zone, including tourism, which is a major employer, as well as one of our main earners of foreign exchange,” he said.

“The agriculture sector, and in particular, the vulnerability of our small farmers who are affected by droughts or other severe weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes, and our dependency on imported fossil fuels to power our energy sources and drive transportation.”

Pickersgill told IPS on the sidelines of Jamaica’s national consultation, held here on Nov. 6, that his country’s delegation will, through their participation, work towards the achievement of a successful outcome for the talks.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Filipinos Take to the Streets One Year After Typhoon Haiyanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:53:07 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137683 One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

People covered their bodies with mud to protest against government ineptitude and abandonment; others lighted paper lanterns and candles and released white doves and balloons to remember the dead, offer thanks and pray for more strength to move on; while many trooped to a vast grave site with white crosses to lay flowers for those who died, and to cry one more time.

These were the scenes this past Saturday, Nov. 8, in Tacloban City in central Philippines, known as ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan.

One year after the storm flattened the city with 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges that caused unimaginable damage to the city centre and its outlying areas and killed more than 6,500 people, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of Haiyan, known among Filipinos as Yolanda, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.

Thousands of stories, mostly about loss, hopelessness, loneliness, hunger, disease, and deeper poverty flooded media portals in the Philippines. There were also abundant stories of heroism and demonstrations of extraordinary strength.

Understanding the scope of the disaster

"We have felt a year's worth of the government's vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year's worth of news and studies that confirm this situation." -- Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors
There may be some signs that suggest a semblance of revival in Tacloban City, located about 580 km southeast of Manila, but it has yet to fully come back to life – that process could take six to eight years, possibly more, according to members of the international donor community.

Still, the anniversary was marked by praise for the Philippines’ “fast first-step recovery” from a disaster of this magnitude, compared with the experience of other disaster-hit places such as Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean.

In its assessment of the relief and reconstruction effort, released prior to the anniversary, the Philippines-based multilateral Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that while “reconstruction efforts continue to be a struggle”, a lot has been done.

“The ADB has been in the Philippines for 50 years, and we can say that other countries would not have responded this strongly to such a huge crisis,” ADB Vice President for East Asia and Southeast Asia Stephen Groff told a press conference last week.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder echoed his words, adding, “The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters.”

Experts say that Filipinos’ ‘bayanihan’ – a sense of neighbourhood and communal unity – helped strengthen the daunting rehabilitation process.

“Yolanda was the largest and most powerful typhoon ever to hit land and it impacted a huge area, including some of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It is important that we look at the scale and scope of this disaster one year after Yolanda,” Groff stressed.

He said the typhoon affected 16 million people, or 3.4 million families, and damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, 248 transmission towers and over 1,200 public structures such as provincial, municipal and village halls and public markets.

Also damaged were 305 km of farm-to-market roads, 20,000 classrooms and over 400 health facilities such as hospitals and rural health stations.

In total, the storm affected more than 14.5 million people in 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces across nine regions. To date, more than four million people still remain homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has faced criticism from affected residents, who used Saturday’s memorial to blast the government for its ineptitude in the recovery process.

Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors, told journalists, “We have felt a year’s worth of the government’s vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year’s worth of news and studies that confirm this situation.”

Protesters burned a nine-foot effigy of the president on the day of the anniversary.

Early morning on Nov. 8 more than 5,000 people holding balloons, lanterns, and candles walked around Tacloban City in an act of mourning and remembrance.

The Roman Catholic Church declared the anniversary date as a national day of prayer as church bells pealed and sirens wailed at the start of a mass at the grave-site where nearly 3,000 people are buried.

Hundreds of fishermen staged protests to demand that the government provide new homes, jobs, and livelihoods, accusing government officials of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

Filipino netizens recalled that they cried nonstop while helplessly watching on their television and computer screens how Tacloban City was battered by the storm.

They posted and shared photos of Filipinos who were hailed as heroes because they volunteered to meet and drive survivors to their relatives in Manila and other places as they alighted from military rescue planes.

“Before” and “after” pictures of the area also made the rounds on the Web.

‘Billions’ in international assistance

President Aquino in a visit to nearby affected Samar island before the storm anniversary said, “I would hope we can move even faster and I will push everybody to move even faster, but the sad reality is the scope of work we need to do can really not be done overnight. I want to do it correctly so that benefits are permanent.”

The Philippine government estimates the need for a 170-billion-peso (3.8-billion-dollar) master-plan to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-metre-high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent further damage in case of another disaster.

Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban City, told journalists two million people are still living in tents and only 1,422 households have been relocated to permanent shelters. As many as 205,500 survivors are still in need of permanent houses.

The recovery process was successful in erecting new electricity posts a few months after the storm, while black swaths of mud have now been replaced by greenery, with crops quickly replanted, and rice fields thriving once more.

Government, private, and international aid workers also restored sanitation and hygiene programmes in the aftermath of the storm.

The ADB announced it was trying to determine whether or not to provide a further 150 million dollars worth of official assistance to Yolanda survivors on top of the 900 million dollars already pledged in grants and concessions at the start of reconstruction efforts.

The United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to provide a 10-million-dollar technical assistance plan to develop 18,400 projects across the country. These will cover other hard-hit areas outside of Tacloban City, such as Guian in Eastern Samar, which will also receive 10 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for rehabilitation programmes.

The Canadian government also offered 3.75 million Canadian dollars to restore livelihoods and access to water to the affected provinces of Leyte and Iloilo.

The Philippine government assured that the billions donated, offered and pledged by the international community would be safely accounted for, monitored, guarded and reported on with transparency.

Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was designated in charge of the rehabilitation programme, said that already he has confirmed reports that some bunkhouses in Tacloban and Eastern Samar were built with substandard materials and that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

“That’s when I realised we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

He asked Filipinos to share information that they know about irregularities on the management and administration of the billions of pesos from the national coffers and donor organisations for rebuilding communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Young, Female Face of HIV in East and Southern Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-young-female-face-of-hiv-in-east-and-southern-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-young-female-face-of-hiv-in-east-and-southern-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-young-female-face-of-hiv-in-east-and-southern-africa/#comments Fri, 07 Nov 2014 07:24:48 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137644 Gender inequalities explain why prevention is failing to contain HIV infection among young women in East and Southern Africa. UNAIDS calls for a major effort to reduce their risk of infection. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Gender inequalities explain why prevention is failing to contain HIV infection among young women in East and Southern Africa. UNAIDS calls for a major effort to reduce their risk of infection. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 7 2014 (IPS)

Experts are raising alarm that years of HIV interventions throughout Africa have failed to stop infection among young women 15 to 24 years old.

“Prevention is failing for young women,” says Lillian Mworeko, HIV expert with International Community of Women Living with HIV in Eastern Africa, based in Uganda.

Among women in East and Southern Africa, four out of ten new HIV infections among women aged 15 years and over happen among  those aged 15 to 24, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Worryingly, HIV infection rates among young women are double or triple those of their male peers. In South Africa, the HIV prevalence of 18 percent among women aged 20-24 is three times higher than in men of the same age. 

The failure of prevention: young women and HIV in East and Southern Africa

In Lesotho, HIV prevalence of four percent among adolescent girls rises four-fold by the time they are 24.

In Botswana, the number of women newly infected with HIV (6,200 in 2012) has only declined by 14 percent since 2009.

The age of consent for marriage is 15 years in Malawi and Tanzania.

Nearly half of all girls in Malawi are married by age 19.

In South Africa, within the 25- 29 year age group, HIV prevalence among women is 28% and 17% among men (UNFPA)

In Tanzania, young women are almost three times more likely to be HIV positive than young men

In Malawi, the number of women acquiring HIV has not decreased since 2009, at 29,000 per year.

In Tanzania, HIV prevalence jumps from one percent among girls under 17 years old to 17 percent by age 24.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent and young women account for one in four new infections.

Source: UNAIDS

Equally alarming are surveys showing that fewer than two in ten young women know their HIV status.

Experts attribute this high HIV prevalence to gender inequalities, violence against women, limited access to health care, education and jobs, and health systems that do not address the needs of youth.

Biology does not help. Teenage girls’ immature genital tract is more prone to abrasions during sex, opening entry points for the virus, Dr Milly Muchai told IPS.

Muchai, a reproductive health expert in Kenya, says it is not just sex that drives HIV infections among young women but the age of the male sexual partner.

“The risk increases steadily with male partners aged 20 years and over,” she explains.

Older men are more likely to have HIV than teenage boys. The Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey 2012 shows that male HIV prevalence remains low and stable until the age of 24, when it shoots up significantly.

Due to intergenerational sex, women in this region are acquiring HIV five to seven years earlier than men, says Muchai, because these relationships are characterised by multiple sexual partners and low condom use. In transactional sex, the young woman receiving gifts or money loses power to negotiate safe sex.

But Kenya is not a unique scenario.

Shocking figures

In Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana, more than one in 10 females aged 15 to 24 are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS.

Dr Gang Sun, UNAIDS country director in Botswana, says that, in spite of the country’s remarkable progress in reduction of new infections and treatment, HIV is still a girls’ and women’s epidemic due to gender inequality and unequal power dynamics.

Among Batswana youth aged 20 to 24 years, HIV infection among women triples that of men, nearly 15 percent compared to 5 percent, he says.

Mary Pat Kieffer, senior director at Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Malawi, told IPS that as teenage girls become older, the risk of infection rises.

In Swaziland, HIV prevalence is six percent for girls aged 15 to 17 but rises to a whopping 43 percent by age 24.

Source: UNICEF

Source: UNICEF

A package of interventions

Kieffer says that many of the issues – poverty, lack of secondary education, few jobs, rape and intimate partner violence – that underpin the unacceptably high HIV prevalence among young women are bigger than what HIV programs alone can address.

Mworeko observes major gaps in reproductive and sexual health services for young people, when they are neither children nor adults, in the region.

“Whether it is prevention, treatment, care and support services, young people do not have a youth friendly corner,” she says.

Paska Kinuthia, youth officer with UNAIDS in South Africa, told IPS that sexuality education needs to be strengthened in schools across the region.

“The regional average of comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDS stands at 41 percent for young men and 33 percent for young women,” he says.

Experts agree there is no one single solution to protect young women and a combination of interventions is needed.

Addressing restrictive laws on the age of consent for HIV testing and for access to sexual and reproductive health services would be a good place to start, experts say.

Promoting gender equality and providing jobs for young people are part of the solution, says Sun.

In Tanzania, HIV infection among girls more than triples between 15-19 and 20-24 years.

This fact, says Allison Jenkins, chief of HIV/AIDS with the United Nations Children’s Fund in Dar es Salaam, underlines “the importance of orienting HIV prevention and economic livelihoods interventions during her transition to adulthood.”

For all these reasons, UNAIDS is calling for “a major movement to protect adolescent girls and young women from HIV infection.”

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Hopes of Controlling Sierra Leone’s Ebola Outbreak Remain Grimhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/hopes-of-controlling-sierra-leones-ebola-outbreak-remain-grim/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hopes-of-controlling-sierra-leones-ebola-outbreak-remain-grim http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/hopes-of-controlling-sierra-leones-ebola-outbreak-remain-grim/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 10:12:45 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137613 Concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how Sierra Leone’s government is handling the Ebola pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how Sierra Leone’s government is handling the Ebola pandemic. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

The fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa seems to be hanging in the balance as Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr Abubakar Fofana told IPS that the government is overwhelmed by the outbreak.

“We were not prepared for this Ebola scourge. It took us by surprise and with our weak health system, we can only rely on support given to us by our international partners,” he told IPS.

According to a report published last week by British charity Save the Children, five people are infected every hour here and the situation is worrisome.

The government has, however, downplayed this, claiming the report is hugely exaggerated and that the situation is getting better in some parts of the country.

However, concern is being raised by civil society and the public about how the government is handling the outbreak.

Bernard Conteh, the director of the rights advocacy group Anti-Violence Movement, told IPS: “The authorities should be more pro-active. They should pay health workers, who are the frontline soldiers in this fight, reasonably well and ensure they are supplied adequate Personal Protective Equipments. This is not happening. Even the enforcement of the quarantine of Ebola suspects is not effectively done.”

On just one day, Nov. 2, 61 new cases were reported across the country bringing the nationwide toll to 4,059 people infected by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country. Liberia has recorded 2,515 cases while Guinea, where the epidemic first started, has 1,409 recorded cases of Ebola.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic in April, Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola. And the figure keeps going up.

The African Governance Initiative has also painted a grim picture of the outbreak here, saying that it is spreading nine times faster than it did two months ago. Of the 12 districts in the country and the capital Freetown, only Koinadugu in the north was Ebola-free — until recently. It now has at least six confirmed cases. Now, no part of Sierra Leone is unaffected but the virus.

The government has, however, been assisted by the international community. The United Kingdom has sent medical equipment and health workers, and has built test and treatment centres in parts of the capital. China has also sent medical aid, while Cuba has deployed dozens of medics on the ground.

But, there are still many challenges to be addressed. According to the medical charity MSF or Doctors Without Borders, the outbreak is far from over and more help is desperately needed.

“There is a huge gap in all aspects of the response, including medical care, training of health staff, infection control, contact tracing, epidemiological surveillance, alert and referral systems, community education and mobilisation,” MSF says.

As the fight against the killer epidemic continues to prove difficult with the virus spreading fast, the government in Freetown has just implemented a year-long state of emergency. This comes just two days after an earlier 90-day state of emergency, implemented in July in response to the outbreak, ended.

Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Frank Kargbo told IPS the extension of the emergency period was necessary to help control the spread of the virus.

“No one knows when the Ebola epidemic will end. We believe that within this period and with our hard work, we will be able to contain the disease.”

Many attribute the rapid spread of the Ebola virus to people’s attitudes and, as MSF says, a lack of sufficient community education and mobilisation. Cultural practices and traditional beliefs are also greatly hampering the fight against Ebola.

“Our people still continue to touch, wash and bury their dead. This is an easy way to get infected, even though they have been told repeatedly not to do so,” the chairman of the National Ebola Response Committee, Alfred Palor Conteh, told IPS.

People also refuse to report to hospitals when they fall ill because of the fear of stigmatisation by their families and communities. Many believe that Ebola is fatal and that going to treatment centres will not help. Ebola survivors and discharged patients also face stigmatisation.

However, Health Health and Sanitation Minister Fofana said he was hopeful the situation would be brought under control soon with international help.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Learning, Dating and Hooking Up: Sex Education Goes Online in Cambodiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 18:15:41 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137604 Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
KOH KONG PROVINCE, Cambodia, Nov 5 2014 (IPS)

The transition to puberty can be an awkward experience for youth to navigate. In Cambodia, sex education is moving increasingly into the virtual realm, with the Internet and mobile phones providing welcome spaces for young people to learn, seek help and stay safe.

Cambodia is classified as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), with 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while another 20 percent are just 0.30 dollars a day above the poverty line, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Illiteracy has been linked with poverty and only 74 percent of rural communities are literate. Cambodia has been heavily influenced by the NGO culture, which has helped bring about some improvements, yet when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), these organisations have tended to focus on addressing poor maternal health or at-risk groups, such as entertainment workers.

"This is the difficulty that we experience [in Cambodia: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.” -- Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia
Youth, on the other hand, particularly those from poorer families and in rural areas, have not received much attention, particularly those who engage in romantic relationships outside of marriage.

Now, a wave of online learning is filling crucial gaps in the knowledge system.

One such initiative is a major E-learning platform being rolled out with support from the ministry of education, youth and sport (MoEYS), aimed at improving young people’s access to vital information.

“NGOs focus on the population in general, birth spacing, maternal health, but not sweetheart relationships that youth have,” Kuth Sovanno, administrative officer in the school health department of the MoEYS said recently to a roomful of teachers at Koh Kong High School during the launch of the E-learning initiative.

It is being piloted in 24 secondary schools in the provinces of Bantey Meanchey, Battambong, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Kampot, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville (Kampong Som province) and Phnom Penh. At present, the plan is to expand the programme to reach 100 schools.

Sovanno tells IPS that tapping into social media is a way to get the information out to youth who flock to Facebook to socialise. Youth are beginning to see online access as an important source of information, so the MoEYS maintains an up-to-date website, which is not always the case with the other ministries.

Cambodia’s mobile phone sales have mushroomed, resulting in an estimated 134-percent mobile phone penetration, with cell phones being cheaper than land lines, while social media – accessed through Internet cafes and mobile devices – was believed to have played a major role in the 2013 elections.

In this same way, youth are breaking away from traditional restrictions on sexual and reproductive health education, says Srun Srorn, advisor to One World UK, partnering with the MoEYS to launch the E-learning programme.

Srorn is an activist who uses social media to reach marginalised youth, including the LGBT community, drug users, sex workers and migrant workers. His volunteer-led organisation, CamASEAN, reaches 2,000 members through social media.

Chheon Rachana, a 28-year-old female activist for LGBT issues who teaches about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression for Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and CamASEAN, tells IPS that many girls do not talk to their parents or female teachers for advice on seemingly basic topics like menstruation; instead, most reach out to friends.

While some schools make use of NGO support to supply poor rural students with feminine products at school, many girls continue to face challenges in acquiring the most essential products and services.

“Poor girls ask for money from their parents or from someone close to them in their family,” explains Rachana. She herself did not tell her parents when she started menstruating, but had a sympathetic relative help buy her monthly feminine products.

Things become even more challenging for teens learning about safer sex, abortions and sexual orientation.

“The traditional Cambodian style of reproductive and sexual health education means that most youth have to find out by themselves by book, [and] share [this information] with their friends because they don’t learn this at school,” Rachana says.

She thinkx the Internet is changing this, though she maintains the importance of accurate information – something that is not always possible given the very nature of the Web.

NGOs such as the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), which also supports the E-learning initiative, trains peer educators to provide accurate information and emotional support in several provinces but adolescents without access to this especially benefit from mobile, SMS and online counseling.

Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia, which, along with Inthanou, provides counselors for the new website www.youthchhlat.org, tells IPS, “Online and phone counseling is a new concept in Cambodia. Many people often refer [to] counseling as giving advice or instructing people to do certain thing. This is the difficulty that we experience: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.”

He describes the service as “pro-poor” and especially helpful for youth in rural areas, as one-on-one counseling can be expensive, while this service is free. The use of mobile phones allows for privacy to talk about these topics either online, by calling or through SMS.

The MoEYS recently published a life skills book for youth that tackles changes in adolescents’ bodies, but also social issues such as drug use and learning about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is paired with the E-learning project that has its own curriculum as well.

“Each student has time at the computer already so it will be easier because they are shy to learn [about sexual reproductive health],” Theary, a high school teacher who has taught grades 7-9 at Koh Kong High for the past seven years, tells IPS.

Computer labs, such as the one in Koh Kong High School, will introduce the website’s lessons to students offline first because of the school’s slow Internet connection but they can also access the lessons online at Internet cafes or through mobile phones.

The new website was launched in March of this year.

“Many youth have sex before marriage now, compared to traditional times,” adds Srorn of One World UK, who trains teachers on how to use the E-learning platform.

“Girls already learn by themselves and use porn videos for this. Internet cafes are not expensive, just 1000 riels [0.24 dollars] an hour so poor girls can learn this way. Males use karaoke bars, beer gardens, massage parlors.”

Koh Kong town, situated close to the Thai border, has many massage parlors and some casinos.

“Middle-class and [upper]-class girls can walk or take a moto bike along the riverside in cities [to meet potential sex partners], while high-class girls go to hip-hop clubs where they can meet a guy. But youth also use the Internet for this. They can use Skype, Facebook messenger and phone sex to hook up.”

Chheon agrees that meeting girlfriends and boyfriends online is common these days. But she says it is important that they meet in public places first and not away from other people for safety reasons.

According to a 2013 U.N. report, 20 percent of men in Cambodia said they had forced a woman to have sex, half of whom claimed to have done so as a teenager.

For those surviving an assault, phone and online counseling can be a lifesaver.

“A girl in a village [who has] been raped … will not only face discrimination, she will have a very difficult time in terms of trauma, stress, and feelings of suicide. Phone counseling, online and text message counseling is playing a role to create the means or opportunity for such a community,” points out Sok Phay from the Child Helpline.

But perhaps what is most urgently needed is information about practicing safer sex.

Monyl Loun, executive director of Inthanou, the other counseling service supporting the project, tells IPS that while love and relationships are “natural” at the age of puberty, the important thing is to learn about the “responsibilities of love, and information to prevent … unintended pregnancy, HIVs and STIs.”

Karaoke videos that play on televisions in buses and even the simplest cafes show romantic partners ending their lives over relationship problems.

“KTV songs and dances are about love, broken hearts and marriage,” explains Srun, adding that most music videos depict couples killing or hurting themselves as a solution to their problems.

But counselors working round the clock in Cambodia hope the new technology-savvy mode of sex education will remind youth that love does not have to end in tragedy.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Middle-Income Kenya Still in Need of Aidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/middle-income-kenya-still-in-need-of-aid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-income-kenya-still-in-need-of-aid http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/middle-income-kenya-still-in-need-of-aid/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 08:40:00 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137567 Gabriel Kimwaki on his coffee farm in Nyeri County, central Kenya. Agriculture is still the backbone of the economy even when many small-scale farmers continue to receive minimal returns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Gabriel Kimwaki on his coffee farm in Nyeri County, central Kenya. Agriculture is still the backbone of the economy even when many small-scale farmers continue to receive minimal returns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 4 2014 (IPS)

Coffee farmer Gabriel Kimwaki from Nyeri County, in central Kenya, is considering “giving up farming altogether”.

He told IPS that the returns are too low “and with every harvesting season, I am making less and less profit.”

His is not a unique story. Francis Njuguna, an agricultural extension officer in the area, told IPS that while it is still difficult to quantify, “more farmers are shifting to food crops. The cash crop business is proving to be too risky for small-scale farmers.”

Kenya was reclassified as a middle-income country in early October, but as this East African comes to terms with its new ranking, it is becoming clear that status alone will not result in fewer people going to sleep hungry.

There is still a great need to address the plight of Kenya’s poor, as agriculture remains the backbone of the economy.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, based on a five-year average from 2009 to 2013, the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP is now estimated at 25.4 percent — up from 24.1 percent.

The contribution that small-scale farmers like Kimwaki make cannot be overemphasised with government statistics showing that small-scale production accounts for at least 75 percent of the total agricultural output and 70 percent of marketed agricultural produce.

Economic analyst Jason Braganza told IPS that “the move to middle-income status was as a result of using better data from high-performing sectors.”

The sectors include agriculture, telecommunication, real estate and manufacturing — the latter sector’s contribution to GDP has risen from 9.5 percent to 11.3 percent, according to Braganza.

What the revised GDP revealed, Braganza said, “is that the country is worth much more than what was previously recorded.”

The country’s GDP is now estimated at 53.4 billion dollars compared to 42.6 billion dollars before the revision, making Kenya the ninth-largest economy in Africa, up from the 12th position.

Kenya’s gross national income rose to 1,160 dollars, up from an estimated 840 dollars before the revision. According to the World Bank, a country is classified as middle income if its gross national income per capita — a nation’s GDP plus net income received from overseas — surpasses 1,036 dollars.

While this has been hailed as a move in the right direction for a country that remains East Africa’s strongest economy, policy analyst Ted Ndebu told IPS that this does not mean that Kenya is “rich and that it has risen above its social economic challenges.”

World Bank statistics show that more than four out of 10 Kenyans live in poverty. The country has a population of 44.3 million. With an economic growth rate of 5.7 percent, Ndebu said that the country “is still a long way off from a double-digit growth rate of at least 10 percent as outlined in the Vision 2030, the country’s economic blueprint.”

Braganza explained that revising the GDP or rebasing the economy is a purely “statistical exercise. It provides a better understanding of the economy but in itself, it does not change people’s poverty status.”

But he added that based on the new statistics, “the government has a better understanding of which sectors are driving the growth of the economy. But it does not mean that fewer people are sleeping hungry.”

He said that economic growth alone would not eliminate poverty.

“Growth must be accompanied by development. It is development that reduces poverty because it addresses issues like access to education, health services, jobs and so on,” Braganza said.

He explained that there were many factors that were not captured in statistics and income bracketing is not always a true representation of the people’s well being. “That is why household surveys are important. They show you the conditions under which people are living.”

Braganza added that this did not mean that rebasing the economy was not important. “It is very significant because the findings can be used to boost development and improve people’s living standards.”

The government would also be able to see which sectors can potentially bring in revenue, and tax them accordingly, thereby exploiting the potential that each sector has to the fullest.

But Ndebu said this could have a downside effect if the sectors are taxed too heavily and could discourage investment and innovation particularly in the telecommunication industry which pioneered mobile payments technology.

But this is not the only implication. Kenya could also be overlooked by donors.

Jason Lakin, the country manager at International Budget Partnership Kenya, told IPS that donors have in recent years focused on the poorest countries and a middle-income country may not be prioritised for funding.

He said that low-income countries generally qualify for more generous assistance.

“Take the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) credits, which are loans given to countries on very concessional terms [low interest and long repayment periods]. Middle-income countries will not qualify for these terms,” he explained, adding that middle-income countries may still get loans at  higher rates or over shorter repayment periods.

“Kenya may not find donor financing as attractive when the interest rates are higher and repayment periods shorter because it has now shown that it can borrow internationally,” said Lakin.

While market rate borrowing may still have higher rates than donor financing, experts say that donor funding usually has other conditions, making it less attractive for a country with other options.

Lakin said that international bond markets for instance “only want to be repaid and do not impose any conditions.”

Although Kenya is not an aid-dependent country since aid accounts for only seven to 10 percent of the national budget, Braganza said that “we still cannot undermine the importance of [aid] because it finances key sectors such as health, agriculture and education.”

“Donor aid is very significant because it is used in social sectors where people are in very severe poverty conditions,” he said.

Ndebu added that there was also aid that does not go through the national budget but through non-government organisations, which significantly complemented government projects.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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U.N. Favours Changeover from Landlocked to ‘Land-linked’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 00:51:53 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137562 Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Nov 4 2014 (IPS)

Some 440 million people are living in 32 countries that are among the world’s poorest, most of them least developed, and geographically isolated from world markets not only because they have very few commodities to export, but also because they have no direct territorial access to the sea.

These landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) – 16 of which are located in Africa, 10 in Asia, four in Europe and two in Latin America – are drawing the focus of the United Nations at a conference in Vienna, the capital of Austria, which is also landlocked but does not suffer the disadvantages of LLDCs because of its membership in the 28-nation bloc of European countries.“The LLDCs can count on the United Nations to transform their geographical disadvantages into platforms for great innovation and progress.” -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

The gathering in Vienna from Nov. 3 to 5 is the Second U.N. Conference on LLDCs. The first conference was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 2003, which adopted the Almaty Programme of Action.

The Vienna conference is set to approve an action plan that would stress the need to provide adequate aid to the least developed countries in pursuing their goals for greater economic development to transition from being landlocked to what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon termed “land-linked”.

“We need to forge an even more ambitious, comprehensive and results-oriented plan,” he added. Only through comprehensive improvements in trade would such nations be best prepared to tackle the post-2015 agenda, Ban told some 1,000 delegates.

Echoing the expectations of several heads of state and government in the opening session, Ban said: “This conference is also a critical part of the U.N.’s broader campaign for a more sustainable future. We want to turn landlocked countries into land-linked countries – integrated with the global economy in a way that connects both markets and people.

“The United Nations will continue to help landlocked developing countries to achieve a life of dignity for all,” he added. “The LLDCs can count on the United Nations to transform their geographical disadvantages into platforms for great innovation and progress.”

U.N. General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, a Ugandan national, said while “notable progress” had been made in several key areas outlined in the Almaty Programme of Action, deep-rooted and multifaceted structural challenges still remain.

“Export volumes, compared to imports, are still low, and are predominantly raw materials and commodity based. Critical physical infrastructure, such as roads, railways and energy, is either lacking or inadequate. Energy, a basic requirement for industrialisation and production, including the facilitation of ICT-based infrastructure, remains inadequate and expensive,” Kutesa added.

He referred to the secretary-general’s report that provides a sobering assessment of the task at hand.

It points out: “In 2012, the trade volume of ‘LLDCs’ was 61 percent that of coastal countries… the World Bank estimated that the basic import and export costs of ‘LLDCs’ were nearly twice those of their transit neighbours. LLDCs spent, on average, $3,204 to export a standardized container of cargo, whereas transit countries spent $1,268. Furthermore, while it cost LLDCs $3,884 to import a container of merchandise, their coastal neighbours incurred a cost of just $1,434 for the same.”

“With such statistics,” the General Assembly president added, “it may be an understatement to say that LLDCs are swimming against the tide. And while LLDCs have the primary responsibility for their own development, even with their best efforts, they cannot meet their development objectives on their own.”

LLDCs needed sustained and unwavering cooperation from transit countries; financial and technical support from bilateral and multilateral partners; and firm commitments from the international community, he added.

Engagement with the private sector was also essential, including through foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships.

He urged the new Programme of Action to be adopted in Vienna to support LLDCs to enhance their competitiveness, stimulate productive capacities, diversify exports, strengthen their resilience to external and internal shocks, and most importantly, ensure a better future for their citizens.

In his remarks to the conference, Gyan Chandra Acharya, the U.N. High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”.

Urging greater synergy between the LLDC development agenda and the ongoing discussion around the next generation of development goals, Acharya said: “We have all agreed that the post-2015 development agenda would be transformative, inclusive and should ensure a life of dignity for all. LLDCs issues therefore rightly deserve due consideration in the formulation of the next global agenda.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lacklustre Early Warning System Brings Tragedy to a Languid Mountainsidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lacklustre-early-warning-system-brings-tragedy-to-a-languid-mountainside/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lacklustre-early-warning-system-brings-tragedy-to-a-languid-mountainside http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lacklustre-early-warning-system-brings-tragedy-to-a-languid-mountainside/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 17:25:09 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137531 Villagers climb through the rubble looking for survivors soon after the Oct. 29 landslide in south-central Sri Lanka Credit: Contributor/IPS

Villagers climb through the rubble looking for survivors soon after the Oct. 29 landslide in south-central Sri Lanka Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 2 2014 (IPS)

When early warning systems fail, death comes quickly to unsuspecting victims of natural disasters. It is a reality that millions of Sri Lankans have experienced repeatedly in the last decade, and yet those responsible for preventing human fatalities continue to make the same mistakes.

The latest such tragedy – a result of ignorance and indifference to imminent danger – struck on the morning of Oct. 29, on the Meeriyabedda tea estate in Koslanda, a hilly region about 220 km east of the capital, Colombo.

After persistent rains, a two-km stretch of hillside caved in early morning, burying an estimated 66 small houses belonging to estate workers under some 30 feet of mud.

An initial situation report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested there had been roughly 300 occupants in these homes; some had been away at work, and most of the children were in school when the disaster occurred.

Four days later four bodies had been recovered and 34 were listed as missing, a figure that was revised from an initial estimate of 100. Over 1,800 have been displaced and most of them may never return to their homes again.

“The real tragedy is there was ample time to move out, warnings telling [villagers] to do so and places that they could move into." -- Indu Abeyratne, manager of the early warning systems of Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS)
But the land did not come barreling down the mountainside without a warning. In fact there had been warnings that these houses were a death trap almost a decade ago.

In 2005, the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) carried out a survey of the area and made its first warning call.

“We found that the land on which the houses were standing was not stable and prone to landslides and our recommendation was relocation,” N K R Seneviratne, NBRO’s geologist for the south-central Badulla District, who headed the survey, told IPS.

In fact some officials at the landslide site said that the 66 houses that had been completely buried by the earth were clearly identified as those most in danger.

Six years later a similar survey was carried out and the recommendations were the same. Small landslides prompted the surveys. In both instances, Seneviratne said, recommendations were conveyed to villagers as well as public officials, who failed to take action on relocation.

Just before this most recent landslide, which occurred around 7.10 in the morning, Seneviratne said that his office had sent a warning to the Haldummulla Divisional Secretariat, the local public authority. Though some villagers were also made aware of the risks, most decided to stay put.

“There were warnings, but all that systematic dissemination process ended once it reached the Divisional Secretariat level; after that, at best, it was ad hoc, at worst nothing seems to have happened,” Indu Abeyratne, manager of the early warning systems of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS), which is now coordinating relief efforts at the site, told IPS.

The villagers themselves missed the signs. In 2009, the Disaster Management Center (DMC), the main government agency overseeing early warnings and disaster assistance, together with the NBRO and the Red Cross, conducted a major community awareness programme in the Koslanda area.

Local villagers were advised to form community groups to act as watchdogs, scanning for imminent signs of danger and preparing evacuations plans. Megaphones were distributed, which villagers could use to gather crowds in an emergency, while the Meeriyabedda tea estate was also given a simple rain gauge to keep track of the levels of precipitation.

The NBRO has its own rain monitor at a school nearby and it was reading that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight by the morning of Oct. 29. If anyone on the estate has been monitoring the village rain gauge, it should have been clear that the soil below was getting too soggy for anyone’s comfort.

But no one was watching the red flags, and when the earth collapsed in on itself with a loud boom, many were caught unawares.

“The real tragedy is there was ample time to move out, warnings telling them to do so and places that they could move into,” SLRCS’s Abeyratne said.

Gaps in early warning

Why did so many stay put in such eminent danger? That is the gnawing question that many assisting the relief effort are now trying to answer.

Gaps in the early warning mechanism have been identified since the disaster.

The main culprit seems to be the lack of an apex authority in control of local warnings, dissemination, evacuations and the absence of a rehearsed evacuation plan, despite the very real danger of landslides in the area.

Shanthi Jayasekera, the head of the Haldumulla Divisional Secretariat, told reporters that even though warnings had been issued there were no clear instructions on evacuations.

In other parts of Sri Lanka, especially along the coast devastated by the 2004 Asia tsunami, there are rehearsed and tested evacuation and early warning plans.

There are DMC units stationed at each of the country’s 25 districts, spread across its nine provinces, tasked with local coordination of such efforts, while the police and armed forces are used to disseminate warnings and handle mass evacuations.

The last such evacuation took place two-and-a-half years back in April 2012 when over a million left their homes along the coast after a tsunami warning.

Evacuation drills and rehearsals are carried out by the DMC every three months, but none seemed to have covered the Meeriyabedda area.

Less than ten days before the landslide, on Oct. 23, the DMC carried out landslide evacuations drills in six districts including Badulla, but unfortunately Meeriyabedda was not among those chosen.

“There was no such plan here, no one knew where to move out to and how to do it; [most] importantly there was no one, no authority, that was taking the lead,” Sarath Lal Kumara, DMC’s spokesperson, told IPS.

“What we should have had is a government agency-led early warning dissemination plan and an evacuation map,” he said.

Such systems do exist elsewhere in the country. According to Abeyratne, SLRCS’s trained volunteer groups work alongside the DMC and local public bodies, as well as the police and armed forces, during emergencies.

“It is a complex system, but it is a system that has been tested [in] real time here [in Sri Lanka] and has worked,” he said. In fact, SLRCS volunteers were among the first to reach the landslide-affected area this past Wednesday.

Perhaps one of the biggest gaps in the disaster management plan for the area was the failure to take into account the socio-economic conditions of those living in landslide-prone areas.

DMC’s Kumara told IPS said that most of the residents and victims were poor workers earning meager wages at nearby tea plantations.

Seneviratne added that the plantation workers are of Indian origin, descendents of those brought by British colonialists to work on the estates about 200 years ago.

The homes that were destroyed were not really houses, but one-room blocks, a dozen to a row, popularly known as ‘line houses’.

The majority of estate residents have lived this way for generations, earning a living by picking tea, tapping rubber or stripping cinnamon. They are entirely dependent on the plantations to which they belong.

A regional plantation company, Maskeliya Plantations Limited, owns the land where the deadly landslide took place. Three days after the landslide the military had to intervene to prevent villagers from assaulting officials of the company at the landslide site.

Sri Lanka’s disaster preparedness levels have improved from a barebones structure a decade ago, when the tsunami left 35,000 dead or missing. Since then it has been a steep learning curve on how to face up to the challenges of frequent extreme weather events.

“It is a situation that needs careful evaluation, not stopgap solutions,” Seneviratne said.

“Each disaster is a lesson on what can be done better, how to save lives,” SLRCS’s Abeyratne added.

If anyone needs a stark reminder on how important these lessons can be, just look up the mountainside at Meeriyabedda – or what is left of it.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Iraqi Christians Seek Shelter in Jordan after IS Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/iraqi-christians-seek-shelter-in-jordan-after-is-threats/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:59:01 +0000 Abuqudairi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137502 Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

By Areej Abuqudairi
AMMAN, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Watching videos and pictures on social media of the advance of the Islamic State (IS) inside Syria made it all seem far from reality to Iraqi Marvin Nafee.

“We did not believe it,” said the 27-year-old, “it seemed so imaginary.”

Only months later, his home city Mosul fell to the IS in two hours and he and thousands of Christians had to flee. Marvin made his way to Jordan, along with his father, mother and two brothers. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us. As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution” – a 60-year-old Iraqi refugee

“There is nothing like peace and safety,” he told IPS from the Latin Church in Marka neighbourhood in Amman, which he has been calling home for the past two months.

In July, the IS  issued an order telling Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay tax, or give up their belongings and leave the city. Failure to do so would result in a death penalty, “as a last resort”.

“Mosul is empty of Christians now. Everyone we know has left, except for a group of elderly in a care centre who were forced to convert to Islam,” Marvin said.

Since August, thousands of Iraqis have been streaming to Jordan through Erbil.

Caritas spokesperson Dana Shahin told IPS that 4,000 Iraqi Christians have approached the Caritas office in Jordan since August, and 2000 of them have been placed in churches.

Churches in the capital and the northern cities of Zarqa and Salt have been turned into temporary refugee camps, with families living in the yards and hallways.

In Maraka’s Latin Church, around 85 people share a 7×3 metre room. Children, elderly, men and women sleep on the floor with extra mattresses dividing the room to give them privacy. They use the cafeteria facilities to prepare meals using food items donated by Caritas.

“It was generous of Jordan to offer what it can, but this is not an ideal living situation for anyone,” says a 53-year-old woman, who gave her name as Um George.

Having been stripped of all of their possessions by the IS, most of them arrived in Jordan penniless and carrying little more than what they were wearing. “They [IS] searched everyone, including children, for money,” said Marvin’s 25-year-old brother Ihab. “We gave it all to them for the sake of safety,” he added.

The Islamic Charity Centre Society has provided pre-fabricated caravans to be used by families in the yards of churches, and a few families have been relocated to rental apartments shared by more than one family. Caritas provides basic shelter, food, medical treatment, and clothes. But a durable solution for these families is yet to be found.

“We are still evaluating their needs. Most of these families have fled with almost nothing,” said Andrew Harper, representative of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan. His organisation registered an average of 120 new Iraqis every day in August and September, with more than 60 percent citing fear of IS as their reason for fleeing Iraq.

Around 11,000 Iraqis have registered with UNHCR this year, bringing the total number of Iraqis in Jordan to 37,067.

Jordan has been home to thousands of Iraqi refugees since 2003, and many of these live in dire conditions, struggling to make ends meet as aid funds dry up.  

“Iraqi refugees remain on the margin of donors and institutions,” says Eman Ismaeel, manager of the Iraqi refugee programme at CARE International in Amman.

Unable to work legally, Iraqi families live in the poorest neighbourhoods of East Amman and Zarqa city. They struggle to pay rent and send their children to school.

The new influx of Iraqi refugees has introduced a new challenge for aid agencies operating in resource-poor Jordan, which is already home to more than 618,500 Syrian refugees.

“We have more refugees than we have ever had since the Second World War, but resources are dire,” said Harper. “We are challenged every day, but we hope to get through with international support,” he added.

Most of the newly-arrived Iraqi refugees interviewed by IPS said that they want to be resettled in Western countries. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us,” said 60-year-old Hanna (who declined to give her last name). “As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution,” she added, noting that she and her daughters had been covering their hair to “avoid harassment”.

But resettlement “in reality is a long process and is based on vulnerability criteria,” said Harper, and thousands of Iraqis in Jordan have been waiting to be resettled in Jordan for years.

Back in Marka, Marvin points to a picture of his house back in Mosul stamped in red with “Property of the Islamic State” and the Arabic letter Nfor Nasara (Christians). A Muslim friend who is still in Mosul sent him the picture. More bad news followed from his friend, who emailed to say that Marvin’s house had been taken over by IS members.

Although he has lost hope that one day he and his family will be able see a glimpse of Iraq again, Marvin still has faith that prayers can bring peace back. “We always pray for the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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