Inter Press Service » Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:19:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137275 The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Africa Can Be its Own ‘Switzerland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:58:30 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137171 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Africa has the capacity to access at least 200 billion dollars for sustainable development investment but it will remain a slave to foreign aid unless it improves the climate for investment and trade and plugs illicit financial flows, development experts say.

“Africa is not poor financially but it needs to get its house in order,” Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration, infrastructure and trade at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS during the commission’s Ninth African Development Forum, which is being held in Morocco from Oct. 13 to 16.

“For too long we have allowed the narrative of Africa to be one about raw materials and natural resources coming out of Africa, yet Africa can take advantage of its own comparative advantages, including these natural resources, and become the leader in the value chains that require these raw materials.”

Research by the ECA shows that the total illicit financial outflows in Africa over the last 10 years, about 50 billion dollars a year, is equivalent to nearly all the official development assistance received by the continent.

“Africa is ready for transformation and we have the continental frameworks [for it],” said Karingi.

A combination of luring private equity investment, remittances and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development.

Sub-saharan Africa has one of the highest number of hungry people and has a growing youth population in need of jobs.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by, among other factors, improved governance and macroeconomic management, rapid urbanisation and expanding regional markets.

Currently Africa is estimated to have a 100-billion-dollar annual funding gap for infrastructure development with about 45 billion dollars of this set to come from domestic resources.

Carlos Lopes, ECA executive secretary, said developing countries must strive to mobilise additional financial resources, including through accessing financial markets. He added that at the same time developed countries must honour the financial commitments they have made in international forums.

“The continent must embark on reforms to capture currently unexplored or poorly-managed resources,” Lopez said.

This is the first time that the Africa Development Forum has focused on the continent’s development.

Discussions focused on enhancing Africa’s capacity to explore innovative financing mechanisms as real alternatives for financing transformative development in Africa.

It aims to forge linkages between the importance of mainstreaming resource mobilisation and the reduction of trade barriers into economic, institutional and policy frameworks, and advancing the post-2015 development goals.

Macroeconomic policy division head at ECA, Adama Elhiraika, told IPS that the new sustainable development goals present an opportunity for Africa to excel by prioritising its development issues.

Elhiraika said Africa has all the ingredients to be a financial hub and investment magnet along the lines of “Switzerland” if only it can improve its investment and trade climate, tackle corruption and raise money internally.

“We need to get our policies right and allow for the kind of investments that people [can make] in Switzerland,” Elhiraika said.

“Given the size of Africa, there is need to promote free movement of capital, which is as important as the free movement of goods and services in boosting trade and investment.”

According to the World Bank, of the 50 economies that recorded improved in their regulatory business environment in 2013, 17 are from Africa, with eight of those economies being ranked ahead of mainland China, 11 ahead of Russia and 16 ahead of Brazil.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Cycle of Death, Destruction and Rebuilding Continues in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:28:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137147 Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

When the international pledging conference to rebuild a devastated Gaza ended in Cairo over the weekend – the third such conference in less than six years – the lingering question among donors was: is this the last of it or are there more assaults to come?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly warned of the futility of the continuing exercise when he said: “We cannot continue to build and destroy – and build and destroy – like this. This should be the last reconstruction conference”."Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians." -- Sarah Leah Whitson

But will it?

The total amount pledged at the Cairo conference was around 5.4 billion dollars.

The funds came mostly from the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East & North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS many of the participants in the Gaza reconstruction have proclaimed their understanding that money is not enough to Israel’s never-ending cycle of death and destruction in Gaza.

“What’s still missing is the international community’s commitment to opening the borders of Gaza so that people there can have a basis of normal life, develop their economy, and take one step away from poverty and handouts,” she added.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS Ban Ki-moon is right that reconstruction followed by destruction is an exercise in futility, but he appears to feel no responsibility in making sure the destruction doesn’t happen.

“The United Nations was set up to avoid the gross violation of rights that Israel has repeatedly visited upon Gaza – and upon the Palestinian people over nearly seven decades.”

Ban, in particular, is well-placed to hold Israel accountable under many legal instruments, she pointed out.

“But for decades the U.N. secretary-general has never acted until world powers asked him to do so. And world powers only act in their own interests,” she said.

Hijab also said the reconstruction conference on Gaza is an attempt by these same world powers to be seen to be dealing with the aftermath of an Israeli assault that provoked worldwide outrage. But if the “international community” really cared about the Palestinians of Gaza, they would order Israel to lift its blockade without delay, she declared.

“And follow that by cutting back on their trade and military ties with Israel until it quits the occupied Palestinian territory,” said Hijab.

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 Israelis killed.

The hostilities in July-August significantly worsened a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to HRW. They left 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who participated in the pledging conference, was constrained to remark, “This is the third time in less than six years that together with the people of Gaza, we have been forced to confront a reconstruction effort.

“[And] this is the third time in less than six years that we’ve seen war break out and Gaza left in rubble. This is the third time in less than six years that we’ve had to rely on a ceasefire, a temporary measure, to halt the violence,” he said.

“Now, I don’t think there’s any person here who wants to come yet again to rebuild Gaza only to think that two years from now or less were going to be back at the same table talking about rebuilding Gaza again because the fundamental issues have not been dealt with,” Kerry declared, taking a passing shot at Israel.

Ban said “whatever we may reconstruct this may not be sustainable if it is not supported by political dialogue. That is why peace talks are the most important. There is no alternative to dialogue and resolving all these underlying issues through political negotiations,” he noted.

He said this must be the last Gaza reconstruction conference.

“The cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough,” he added.

In a statement released here, HRW said blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza.

Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza.

“The U.N. Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions,” HRW said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, reinforced by Egypt, has largely prevented the export and import of commercial and agricultural goods, crippling Gaza’s economy, as well as travel for personal, educational, and health reasons, according to HRW.

“Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians,” HRW’s Whitson said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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New Trains, New Hopes, Old Anguishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 13:18:26 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137115 Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Oct 11 2014 (IPS)

The kids of Kodikaman, a dusty village straddling the newly laid railway line in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District, enjoy a special treat these days.

For hours on end, they wait expectantly at the edge of the rails for a track construction engine to pass by; when it nears, they rush to place metal coins on the track and when the trundling vehicle has passed, they run back gleefully to pick up the disfigured money.

This little ritual is just one of many signs that the new line, re-laid here after 24 years, is a big deal all over the Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that bore the brunt of the country’s three-decade-old conflict that ended in May 2009.

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The last train that plied the line through Kodikaman, some 380 km north of the capital, Colombo, ran on the night of Jun. 13, 1990, when the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the popular Yal Devi (Jaffna Princess) express.

The Yal Devi had previously been attacked in 1985, also by the Tigers, resulting in reduced train service throughout Sri Lanka’s northern province for almost an entire generation.

So when the first trains to enter the Vanni in over two decades did so in September 2013, school children came out in hordes just to catch a glimpse of the carriages passing through Kilinochichi, the town that was, for over a decade, the Tigers’ de-facto economic and administrative nerve centre.

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“The entire public here is waiting for this dream to come true,” said S L Gupta, project director for IRCON, the government-owned Indian company – a subsidiary of Indian Railways – that is reconstructing 252 km of train links in the Vanni at a cost of 800 million dollars.

The project got off the ground in February 2011 and large sections have already been completed. Trains now ply up to Madhu Road on the northwestern line and up to Pallai, about 17 km south of Jaffna, on the northern line.

On Oct. 13, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will officially declare open the track all the way to Jaffna.

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“It will be momentous,” Gupta asserted.

Vadevil Jayakumar, a native of Kilinochchi, agrees with this assessment. He takes the train weekly with his wife, his sister and his young niece.

“It’s cheap, it’s convenient and faster than the bus,” Jayakumar told IPS, riding on the footrest of one of the carriages, his sister and niece occupying the open door at the other end of the train car.

Indeed, a ticket from Colombo all the way up to the Vanni – covering a distance of some 264 km – costs just 180 rupees (about 1.25 dollars). But the novelty of the trains, many say, ends there.

“Very few take the train, they prefer the bus still,” said Nesarathnam Praveen, the 23-year-old stationmaster of the Madhu Road terminus. He says the bulk of his commuters pass through here only when there are festivals at the famous Madhu Church, which attracts thousands from in and outside the province.

On ordinary days, he confesses, this little station lies mostly empty.

Even on the Yal Devi, returning from Colombo on a stifling October afternoon, the bulk of the passengers are government military personnel returning to their posts up north.

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Part of the problem, passengers say, is that trains here don’t run as regularly as they do elsewhere in the country. In fact, the most frequent carriers on the northwestern line are former road buses that have been converted into rail-friendly vehicles that move in pairs along the track.

Trains can’t outstrip poverty

Despite their multi-million-dollar price tag, the new rail links are yet to provide the spark needed to jumpstart the Vanni economy, still in the doldrums despite five years of peace and a massive reconstruction effort in the Northern Province exceeding three billion dollars.

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Poverty is rampant in the region. The poverty headcount in the Mullaitivu District is a national high of 28.8 percent, almost six times the national average of 6.7 percent and 20 times that of the 1.4 percent recorded in the Colombo District.

Other districts in the north are not faring much better: Kilinochchi has a poverty rate of 12.7 percent, Mannar 20.1 percent and Jaffna 8.3 percent.

Only Vavuniya, the southern-most of the five northern districts and the gateway to the rest of the country, is performing well, with a poverty ratio of 3.4 percent.

Unemployment rates follow a similar trend, with Kilinochchi recording a rate of 7.9 percent, nearly double the national average of 4.4 percent, while all districts other than Vavuniya recorded rates higher than the national benchmark.

The primary reason for this, experts say, has been slow job creation. Fishing and agriculture constitute the bulk of the Vanni’s economic activity, but policies aimed at creating markets and bringing in buyers are rare.

Private sector involvement, while on the rise, has not been able to breathe life into an economy repeatedly amputated by the conflict.

Economists blame  a lopsided policy framework, that has poured millions into large infrastructure development without paying adequate attention to revitalising local income generation, for the chronic poverty in the north on

Anushka Wijesinha, economist and policy advisor at the Colombo-based think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, told IPS that if transporting bulk cargo by rail is made cheaper, goods from the Vanni could achieve a more attractive price.

But for the northern railway to become a real purveyor of economic success, more attention, more incentives and more funds need to be directed to the medium- and small-scale Vanni entrepreneur.

“The new transport [line] can certainly boost economic connectivity of businesses in Jaffna and Mannar,” Wijesinha said. “But enterprise policies must focus on helping to grow indigenous businesses in these regions. Otherwise the enhanced connectivity might benefit businesses coming from outside into these regions more than it helps businesses that are already struggling to grow.”

 

“Policies that improve the business climate, access to finance, technology and business skills will be key,” Wijesinha concluded.

Economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who specialises in the northern economy, told IPS that before the conflict erupted, the northern region brought in the highest per-region revenue to the Railways Department. This was likely due to the fact that the Northern Line was the longest in the country, with 83 station stops.

Sarvananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Jaffna, emphasised that the government needs to come up with an integrated plan to capitalise on cheaper costs made possible by the railway.

“The Government should incentivise private businesses to set up warehouses adjoining the main railway stations in order to spur cargo trade via railroads,” he stated.

“The re-opening of the rail line to the Northern Province provides healthy competition to road transport services, both cargo and passenger, thereby reducing the transport costs to passengers and businesses alike.

“The resulting reduction in the transaction costs of businesses is likely to benefit consumers by the reduction in prices of consumer goods and services,” he concluded.

If no such integrated plans are made, a familiar refrain will echo in the Vanni, with a large infrastructure project leaving a poverty-stricken community in awe, but in reality no better off than they were before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Displacement Spells Danger for Pregnant Women in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 12:41:56 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137065 A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.

In northern Pakistan, a military campaign aimed at ridding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Taliban militants has led to a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

When the army began conducting air raids on the 11,585-square-km North Waziristan Agency on Jun. 15, residents were forced to flee – most of them on foot – to the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where they have now taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps.

“In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.” -- Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Officials estimate the number of displaced at just over 580,000, of which half are women.

In the ancient city of Bannu, which now houses the largest number of refugees, some 40,000 pregnant women are facing up to their ultimate fear: a lack of hospitals, doctors and basic medical supplies.

For 30-year-old Tajdara Bibi, a mother of three, these fears became a reality in June, when she had to flee her home in North Waziristan and trudge the 55 km to KP along with her fellow villagers.

The journey wore her down, and by the time she was admitted to the maternity hospital in Bannu, the doctors were too late: she delivered a stillborn baby a few hours later.

Muhammad Sarwar, who attended to Bibi, told IPS that an extreme shortage of female doctors has put pregnant women on a knife’s edge.

“At least four women died of pregnancy-related complications on the way to Bannu, while 20 others had miscarriages at the hospital,” he said.

“We have only four female doctors in the whole district, who are required to provide treatment to all the women,” he added.

With thousands of women now clamouring for care, the province’s limited healthcare services are falling short, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Gul Rehman, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, is still reeling from a recent tragedy. He told IPS his wife went into labour prematurely during the arduous journey to Bannu.

“We could not find transport so we had to walk. When we finally reached the hospital, we were kept waiting… there were no doctors readily available.

“After 10 hours, they finally operated on my wife – but the baby was already dead,” he explained. Aside from the trauma of losing their child, the couple is also struggling to cope with the wife’s health condition, which has deteriorated rapidly after the stillbirth.

According to Fawad Khan, Health Cluster and Emergency Coordinator for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, existing health facilities are not equipped to deal with the wave of arrivals from North Waziristan.

The WHO is currently assisting the KP health department to “prevent unnecessary deaths”, the official told IPS, adding that 73 percent of displaced women and children in Bannu are in “desperate need of care.”

Some 30 percent of pregnant women among IDPs are at risk of delivery-related complications, a situation that could easily be addressed by upgrading existing facilities. There is also an urgent need for gynaecologists to provide antenatal and postnatal care, he stated.

Twelve health centres have already been established to tackle malnutrition among women and children in the camps. Without proper nourishment, officials fear pregnant women will face additional complications during birth, and low birth-weight among newborns could create additional challenges for health workers.

“Four percent of the total displaced women are pregnant and need immediate attention,” Abdul Waheed, KP’s director-general of health, told IPS, adding that some 20 basic health units have already been strengthened to take on those most in need.

Still, the crisis has reached proportions that even seasoned officials are scarcely able to comprehend. Waheed explained that Bannu has never before had to host such a large population of homeless people, and is struggling to cope.

Prior to the recent wave of refugees from North Waziristan, the KP province had already welcomed over 1.5 million people from FATA. This latest influx brings the number of displaced since 2001 to over 2.5 million.

“We are sending doctors from teaching hospitals in Peshawar [capital of KP] on a rotational basis to meet the situation,” he asserted.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined the WHO in supporting the Pakistan government’s push for improved health services. Some 65 doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad have joined NGO workers in Bannu to provide urgent care.

Part of the problem, according to Ali Ahmed, KP’s focal person for IDPs, is that few medical professionals are keen to take up posts in the militancy-infested region. For years the Taliban have operated with impunity in these federal areas, hiding out along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that stretches for some 2,400 km.

The military’s counter-insurgency programme was launched in a bid to finally wipe out extremist elements that fled Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took root along the porous border.

But until the region regains a sense of normalcy, it will be hard to lure professionals here, officials say. Despite being offered lucrative packages, doctors have refused to take up posts, even temporarily, in Bannu.

The government is looking to fill this gap by appointing 10 doctors, including five female doctors, to the newly renovated Women and Children Hospital, which remains understaffed and ill equipped.

The city’s other two category ‘B’ hospitals, the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital (KGTH) and the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital, suffer similar setbacks, while the arrival of the IDPs has more than tripled the number of patients demanding services, Ahmed said.

Three rural health centres in close proximity to the refugee camps, as well as 34 basic health units, have received an injection of funds and resources, and 20 assistant nutritional officers have been deployed to cater to the needs of 41 percent of affected children, he told IPS.

But far greater efforts will be needed to tackle the crisis, which is compounding an already bleak picture of maternal health in Pakistan.

Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert here in KP, told IPS, “In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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When Helping Hands Make a Disaster Worsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 18:35:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137058 Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Relief work done by emergency responders during natural disasters may inadvertently exacerbate problems caused by climate change and lead to further disasters, recent reports suggest.

When heavy rains caused nearly 20 million dollars in losses in Diego Martin, western Trinidad, in 2012, emergency responders moved rapidly to provide relief to affected residents, some of whom lost their homes.An estimated 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from Haiti's discarded tents if they were left in landfills.

However, just under two weeks later, Diego Martin was again inundated, this time due to a tropical storm.

A newly released report by the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society (TTRCS) raises the possibility that the second flooding may have partly been due to the relief work done by the emergency responders.

The report states “after the first flooding incident water supplies were distributed in individual disposable, non-biodegradable vessels such as plastic bottles and food supplies were distributed with plastic utensils.

“In addition to the intense rainfall, one of the major contributing factors to the Diego Martin flooding was the clogging of waterways. Waste collection services immediately following the disaster were restricted… Use of [eco-friendly, biodegradable] materials could have helped negate the possibility of flooding.”

The TTRCS’ report, entitled “Green Response: A Country Study”, was presented by the head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to a recent meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

It was prepared following a feasibility study “on how to reduce, in a sustainable way, the environmental impact of the products and technologies used in response to and recovery from disasters.”

Trinidad and Tobago decided to undertake the study following an ACS meeting in 2011 where the issue of greening the region’s responses to natural disasters was raised for consideration.

Greening disaster relief efforts has become a major concern internationally, since as the Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit notes, while “DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) seeks to reduce the risk of harm from disasters… the implementation of activities defined by disaster risk assessments, or by interventions presumed to reduce risk, itself has a risk of doing harm if the activities do not address environmental sustainability.”

Hence, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report notes that organisations heavily involved in such work are “considering both current and future disaster and climate change risks and including various measures to address them, in recovery programming.”

The need for such considerations was particularly evident in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that took more than 200,000 lives.

Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers who were deployed to help in recovery efforts following the earthquake, there was also the environmental problem created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months.

The IFRC Practice Note Report on Haiti notes that 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from the discarded tents if these were left in landfills.

“The key issue,” said ACS’s director of Transport and Disaster Risk Reduction, George Nicholson, “is having to find a way to ensure that regardless of the things we do, whether work activities or specific activities for disaster response, to ensure that the things have the least impact on the environment.”

The Trinidad and Tobago government is committed to incorporating climate change and  environmental considerations into all its programmes. So when the question of a green response to disaster management came up for consideration at the ACS, the country offered to do the feasibility study for what has been dubbed the Green Response.

The ACS has worked with the ODPM, which has lead responsibility for the initiative in the country, the IFRC, and the TTRCS on the study.

Nicholson said that pursuant to the study’s findings, other ACS member countries “may look to see what was done by Trinidad and Tobago and then adapt or adopt their mechanisms.”

TTRCS’ Stephan Kishore said greening disaster relief efforts would involve activities such as locally manufacturing and pre-positioning relief supplies, so as to reduce the carbon footprint involved in shipping items from China, where most of the country’s relief supplies now come from.

It would also involve simple procedures such as using paper, cloth, or buckets rather than plastic to wrap relief supplies, and wrapping items, like soap, in bulk rather than in individual wrappings. Further, green relief efforts would encourage recycling of items and use of solar energy rather than fossil fuels.

However, a major consideration in greening disaster relief efforts is the legislative framework governing disaster relief organisations. Nicholson said the feasibility study looks at Trinidad and Tobago’s “legislative processes, its operational systems to see where you can get benefits out of being more green in your approach.”

But introducing legislation that would green disaster relief efforts will not be easy, Kishore said. “To get legislation passed for any response is very difficult. The whole process of getting legislation is very difficult,” he said.

Further complicating matters, Nicholson said, is that the ACS’ members states operate under several different legislative frameworks since the countries include Dutch, French, Spanish, and English-speaking countries with different legal traditions.

“All of them have totally different legislative environments, so you cannot write one thing and say we can establish best practices. Countries will look at that checklist of best practices [from the study] and see how best they can adopt their own environment to suit.”

With the feasibility study phase complete, the next stage of the Green Response is to identify or develop green disaster response processes and products from the region, which may include encouraging local manufacturers to begin producing recyclable items that can be used during a natural disaster.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Financing for Biodiversity: A Simple Matter of Keeping Promiseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 12:02:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137037 The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

With governments, activists and scientists tearing their hair out over the world’s impending crisis in biodiversity, the outgoing president of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) delivered a simple message to participants at the 12th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP12) currently underway in the Republic of Korea’s northern Pyeongchang county: honour the promises you made last year.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the meeting, running from Oct. 6-12, Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India, which has held the presidency of the Conference of the Parties for a year, said finance continues to be a weak link in global efforts to safeguard the earth’s fragile ecosystems, with parties failing to deliver on their pledges.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk." -- Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India
Pande recalled that at the 11th meeting of the parties (COP11), held in the South Indian city of Hyderabad in October 2012, states had promised to double funding for conservation by 2015.

However, after two years, this promise remains largely undelivered. Unless countries keep their word, it will be difficult to make significant progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in 2011, the official added.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk,” Pande told IPS.

Countless issues are calling out for an injection of monetary resources: from coastal clean-up projects and scientific research to public awareness campaigns and livelihood alternatives, conservation is a costly undertaking.

According to an estimate by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an annual expenditure of 200 billion dollars would be required to meet all 20 of the CBD goals for 2020, including eliminating harmful subsidies, halving the rate of ecosystem destruction, sustainably managing fisheries, increasing protected areas, restoring 15 percent of the world’s degraded ecosystems, and conserving known endangered species.

Thus the agreement to boost funding was one of the most celebrated outcomes of COP11. Using a baseline figure of the average annual national spending on biodiversity between 2006 and 2010, developed countries had said they would double their giving by 2015.

Although no numbers were put on the table, observers expected that a doubling of the resources then would mean around 10-12 billion dollars a year.

Now, as the convention does its mid-term review, it appears that figure is far from becoming a reality.

Paul Leadly, lead author of ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4), a progress report on global efforts towards the Aichi Targets released here Monday, acknowledges that finance is “definitely insufficient.”

“The good news is there is a slight increase in the funding. The bad news is, it’s not anywhere near doubling the amount,” he told IPS.

According to him, given the current slowdown in the global economy, it is difficult to say how nations will fulfill their promises in another two years.

“It doesn’t help that a lot of countries are not [doing] very well financially. For example, in Brazil, there is economic stagnation,” Leadly added.

Others believe the global financial climate should not act as a deterrent to swift action on conservation and environmental protection.

Countries like India have allocated substantial amounts of state funding to the conservation effort, in the hopes of leading by example.

“Since 2012, we have been spending two billion rupees [about 32.5 million dollars] each year just on managing and maintaining our biodiversity hubs such as our national parks and sanctuaries […]. We have reported this to the CBD as well,” Pande claimed, adding that all 191 parties to the convention are bound to do the same.

Although the budget allocation to India’s ministry of environment and forests has seen a decline from 24 billion rupees (391 million dollars) in 2012-13 to 20.4 billion rupees (325 million dollars) this year, Pande says the combined total budgets of all ministries involved in the conservation effort – including departments that oversee land restoration, soil conservation, water, fishers and ecological development – represent a sum that is higher than previous years.

Still, India is just one country out of nearly 200. Given that international agreements on biodiversity are not legally binding, no country can be “forced to pay”, so holding parties accountable to their financial commitments is no easy task.

Pande also said that a large number of governments had not submitted their national reports to the CBD in time, resulting in inadequate data in the GBO-4 regarding finances and financial commitments.

Mobilising resources will be a major topic at the meeting currently underway in Korea. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS that an expected outcome of COP12 was a clear resource mobilisation strategy to tackle the dearth of funds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that state parties can increase allocations for biodiversity conservation efforts without necessarily making huge investments.

One of these “non-economic” ways of generating the necessary resources, according to Leadly, is to end subsidies.

“Governments are spending so much money on providing subsidies: in agriculture, fuels, fisheries, fertiliser. Ending those subsidies doesn’t cost money. In fact, [governments] could use that money for other things, like channeling it into conservation of biodiversity,” he asserted.

Leadly pointed to India’s on-going efforts to phase out subsidies of synthetic fertilisers as an example others could follow, adding, “If you look at China, their fertiliser is massively subsidised, which is not matching the needs of their crop plants. But political will is needed.”

Some states do appear to be prioritising the issue: Thailand this year added 150,000 dollars to its annual budget in order to jumpstart forest conservation; Guatemala has earmarked some 291 million dollars for biodiversity efforts, Namibia spends about 100 million dollars a year on similar endeavours, while Bangladesh and Nepal have allocated 360 and 86 million dollars respectively.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanity Failing the Earth’s Ecosystemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 11:31:42 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137008 A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

In pure numbers, the past few decades have been marked by destruction: over the last 40 years, Earth has lost 52 percent of its wild animals; nearly 17 percent of the world’s forests have been felled in the last half-century; freshwater ecosystems have witnessed a 75-percent decline in animal populations since 1970; and nearly 95 percent of coral reefs are today threatened by pollution, coastal development and overfishing.

A slew of international conferences and agreements over the years have attempted to pull the brakes on what appears to be a runaway train, setting targets and passing legislation aimed at protecting and conserving the remaining slivers of land and sea as yet untainted by humanity’s massive carbon footprint.

In 2010, building on the foundation laid by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), scores of experts and activists gathered in Nagoya, Japan, drafted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which included 20 points known as the Aichi Targets, encompassing everything from land preservation to sustainable fishing practices.

Though the goals were subsequently re-affirmed by the U.N. general assembly, and reiterated yet again at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, scientists say losses continue to outpace gains, as forests are chopped down, garbage emptied into oceans and animal habitats razed to the ground to make way for human development and industry.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 12), a United Nations progress report on the state of global biodiversity released Monday in Pyeongchang, Korea, called urgent attention to unmet targets and challenges ahead.

Coming exactly a year before the halfway point of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan and the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4) called for a “dismantling of the drivers of biodiversity loss, which are often embedded deep within our systems of policy-making, financial accounting, and patterns of production and consumption.”

For instance, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report, humans are “using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal.”

The organisation’s Living Planet Index (LPI), based on studies of over 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, found that exploitation of natural resources by humans accounted for the vast majority of wildlife losses in the last four decades (37 percent), followed by habitat degradation (31 percent), climate change (seven percent) and habitat loss (13 percent).

The same report found that human impacts such as increased pollution and construction projects were largely responsible for the steep decline of wildlife in freshwater systems, with 45,000 large dams (over 15 metres) preventing the free flow of some of the world’s major rivers, at a huge cost to biodiversity.

Marine animal populations have also plummeted by 40 percent, making a strong case for the rapid designation of adequate marine protected areas. However, according to the GBO-4 released today, “more than half of marine regions have less than five percent of their area protected.”

Of the five Strategic Goals (A-E) of the 10-year biodiversity plan, GBO-4 highlighted numerous challenges, including threats to natural resources provoked by greatly increased total global consumption levels (Target 4), rising nutrient pollution impacting aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, compounded by increased pollution from chemicals, fertilisers and plastics (Target 8), a rising extinction risk for birds, mammals and amphibians (Target 12), and a lack of capacity to mobilise concerned citizens worldwide (Target 19).

According to David Ainsworth, information officer for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “The question of agriculture and food security is probably one of the biggest challenges we are facing.”

“Given that we know we’re looking at a substantial population increase by the end of the decade, which is likely going to be matched with a change in dietary patterns such as the consumption of more meat, we are probably going to experience tremendous pressures on biodiversity just in trying to deal with the agricultural situation alone,” he told IPS.

A lot of this could be solved, he added, by dealing with food production systems, by promoting a different model to the typical, rich, North American diet and by tackling food waste at all stages of the production cycle, from wastage in fields and transportation chains to food distribution centers and even in the home.

Asia-Pacific: under tremendous pressure

With a population of just over 4.2 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region faces a unique set of challenges to preserving its biodiversity.

According to Scott Perkin, head of the Natural Resources Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-Asia, the region “has taken some important steps towards the achievement of the Aichi Targets.

“A majority of countries in the region have revised and strengthened their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (Target 17), and a significant number have ratified the Nagoya Protocol (Target 16),” Perkin told IPS in an email.

But the region as a whole remains under tremendous pressure, he said, adding, “Population growth and rapid economic development continue to fuel the loss and degradation of natural habitats, and much greater efforts will be required if Target 5 on halving the rate of loss of forests and other habitats by 2020 is to be achieved.”

Indonesia alone experienced a deforestation rate of one million hectares a year between 2000 and 2003. A recent study indicates that in 2012 the country likely hacked away 840,000 hectares of primary forest, outstripping even Brazil, which cut down 460,000 hectares that same year.

Perkin said the illegal wildlife trade in Asia is yet another critical issue, one that will make achievement of Target 12 – preventing the extinction of known species – especially challenging.

The region also provides a stark example of the links between biodiversity and economic gains, a point also highlighted in the report released today. According to GBO-4, reducing deforestation rates have been estimated to result in an annual benefit of 183 million dollars in the form of ecosystem services.

The same pattern is evident throughout the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in places where governments have replaced marine resource exploitation with conservation efforts.

In the western Pacific Ocean nation of Palau, for instance, the banning of commercial fisheries has boosted the tiny island’s ecotourism potential, with visitors rushing to explore the country’s bustling coastal waters.

A single shark, which had hitherto brought the country a few hundred dollars for its fin, considered a delicacy in East Asia, now fetches 1.9 million dollars over its entire lifetime.

In Indonesia too, the creation of the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays has raised the sea-creature’s economic potential from some 500 dollars (when used for meat or medicine), to over one million dollars as a tourist attraction, according to Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP)’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Still, it will take more than piecemeal measures to bring about the scale of protection and conservation required to keep biodiversity levels at a safe threshold.

As Ainsworth pointed out, “The core of this issue goes beyond the questions of where we put our roads and highways – it goes to fundamental ways of how we organise ourselves socially and economically in relation to nature and biodiversity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Thirsty Land, Hungry Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thirsty-land-hungry-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 17:53:49 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136983 A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Oct 3 2014 (IPS)

Gazing out over the parched earth of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, one might think these farmlands have not seen water in years. In fact, this is not too far from the truth.

The World Food Programme (WFP) last month allocated 2.5 million dollars to assist hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans in the throes of an 11-month drought that has shown no signs of abating.

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka's largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka’s largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka's staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka’s staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The WFP said on Sep. 1 that 2.3 million dollars worth of supplies, including rice rations, would be provided to the drought victims. The assistance scheme will also provide 277,000 dollars in cash grants to needy families.

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The drought has so far impacted over 1.6 million people, of whom at least 190,000 are in need of urgent food assistance, while there are concerns about the food security of an additional 700,000.

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka’s eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over half of those impacted by the drought are from the northern and eastern provinces of the country, two of the poorest in the nation.

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

While the situation calls for immediate assistance, the WFP also warned that the affected would need long-term help to adapt to the impacts of changing climate patterns.

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka's agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka’s agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the annual risk to Sri Lanka posed by climate-related disasters stands at some 380 million dollars. The worst disaster to date, a severe flood in 2010 and 2011, caused damages to the tune of 50 billion dollars.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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From Subsistence to Profit, Swazi Farmers Get a Helping Handhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136938 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Men in blue overalls are offloading vegetables from trucks while their female counterparts dress and pack the fresh produce before storing it in a cold room.

When another truck drives in, the packed items are loaded and the consignment is driven away again."Production is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge. That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.” -- Betina Edziwa

Such are the daily activities at Sidemane Farm, situated a few kilometres outside the Swazi capital of Mbabane.

“The farmers have a contract to supply me with baby vegetables throughout the year,” Themba Dlamini told IPS.

In turn, he supplies Woolworths stores in South Africa with the vegetables, a business he said was very “sensitive”. Not only does his client demand high quality vegetables, but he has to be on time when it comes to meeting deadlines.

He bought the E1.6 million business from its previous owner in 2005 and he says demand has been growing each year.

“I’m competing with other suppliers from South Africa and Kenya,” he said.

The contracted farmers are critical to the survival of his business because the 90-hectare land that is cultivated by the existing farmers is no longer enough. He needs more farmers to supply him.

With a staff of 95, Sidemane currently exports 25 tonnes of vegetables monthly, although there is a potential to expand to 40 tonnes. But for the company to meet its growing demand, it needs to train more farmers. Lack of adequate funding was a limiting factor.

“When buying the farm, I took a loan and I was not in a position to get another loan until I finish this one,” he said. “It would have been difficult to expand without additional financial support.”

Last year, Dlamini applied and got an E380,000 grant from the European Union-funded Marketing Investment Fund (MIF), an initiative under the Swaziland Agriculture Development Programme (SADP). The Ministry of Agriculture implemented the SADP while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations provided technical assistance.

From the MIF grant, Dlamini got a mini-truck, a generator and crates in which he packs the vegetables. The truck is very useful for transporting the vegetables and reaching out to farmers for trainings.

“We experience a lot of power cuts yet we deal with perishables. The generator helps to keep the stock whenever we don’t have power,” explained Dlamini.

He is one of 47 famers and agro-processors to benefit since 2012, said MIF coordinator Betina Edziwa. The project is the boost that many farmers needed to grow their businesses and improve their livelihoods.

“It has been realised that production for farmers is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge,” said Edziwa. “That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.”

This necessitated the need to create a funding mechanism to enable beneficiaries to buy equipment and get training to help farmers sell their products. The grants were not handed out in cash, but the farmers were given the equipment and trained in business management and marketing.

“Successful applicants were those working with smallholders or were involved in value-addition,” said Edziwa.

This is one government and development partners’ initiative to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the country, where 63 percent of the one million population lives below the poverty line, according to the 2010 Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (SHIES).

Given the high incidence of HIV/AIDS – with Swaziland leading the world at 26 percent of the productive age group – a lot of farmers took a knock.

This is the injection that many Swazi farmers needed to ensure that they are able to grow from just being subsistence to commercial agriculture, said Minister of Agriculture Moses Vilakati.

“The fund is in line with ministry’s approved strategy on diversification and commercialisation,” he said.

Although the disbursement of funds under the MIF came to an end in June, Vilakati said the ministry will establish an agribusiness section to ensure sustainability and expansion of the initiative through follow-up training, monitoring and evaluation of the enterprises and the farmers.

In a recent interview on the FAO’s website, SADP’s chief technical advisor, Nehru Essomba, said MIF is part of the broader SADP that has benefited 20,000 farmers in many other activities. One of the activities includes the rehabilitation of six dams for irrigation to support production, not only of crops but also livestock.

“We’re already helping more than 20,000 famers move from subsistence agriculture to a more sustainable high income-generating and market-led agriculture,” said Essomba.

It is a comprehensive approach in addressing the value chain, said EU Ambassador to Swaziland Nicola Bellomo on the same website. He said this programme links production, processing and marketing of the product, which is new in the country, a net importer.

“We are trying to develop a capacity and ability to export food,” said Bellomo.

And this is what Sidemane and many other famers are already doing.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Blistering Drought Leaves the Poorest High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:50:15 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136917 A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The last time there was mud on his village roads was about a year ago, says Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, situated about 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

“Since last October we have had nothing but sun, all day,” the 40-year-old father of two school-aged children told IPS. If his layman’s assessment of the rain patterns is off, it is by a mere matter of weeks.

At the disaster management unit of the Kilinochchi District Secretariat under which Mohanabavan’s village falls, reports show inadequate rainfall since November 2013 – less than 30 percent of expected precipitation for this time of year.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school. The nightmare continues." -- Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo
Sri Lanka is currently facing a severe drought that has impacted over 1.6 million people and cut its crop yields by 42 percent, according to government analyses. But a closer look at the areas where the drought is at its worst shows that the poorest have been hit hardest.

Of the drought-affected population, over half or roughly 900,000 people, are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, regions that have been traditionally poor, dependent on agriculture and lacking strong coping mechanisms or infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters.

Take the northern Kilinochchi district, where out of a population of some 120,000, over 74,000 are affected by the drought; or the adjoining district of Mullaithivu where over 56,000 from a population of just above 100,000 are suffering the impacts of inadequate rainfall.

The vast majority of residents in these districts are war returnees, who bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war that ended in May 2009. Displaced and dodging the crossfire of fierce fighting between government forces and the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last stages of the conflict, these civilians began trickling back into devastated villages in late 2010.

Despite a massive three-billion-dollar mega infrastructure development plan for the Northern Province, poverty remains rampant in the region. According to poverty data that was released by the government in April, four of the five districts in the north fared poorly.

While the national poverty headcount was 6.7 percent, major districts in the north and east recorded much higher figures: 28.8 percent in Mullaithivu, 12.7 percent in Kilinochchi, 8.3 percent in Jaffnna and 20.1 percent in Mannar.

The figures are worlds apart from the mere 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent recorded in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts in the Western Province.

“The districts in the North were already reeling under very high levels of poverty, which would have certainly accentuated since then due to the prolonged drought to date,” said Muttukrishna Saravananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna.

Mohanabavan told IPS that even though he has about two acres of agriculture land that had hitherto provided some 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) in income annually, the dry weather has pushed him into debt.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school,” he explained, adding that there is no sign of respite. “The nightmare continues,” he said simply.

Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s national annual gross domestic product (GDP) of some 60 billion rupees (about 460 million dollars). In primarily rural provinces in the north and east, at least 30 percent of the population depends on an agriculture-based income.

Kugadasan Sumanadas, the additional secretary for disaster management at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, said that limited programmes to assist the drought-impacted population have been launched since the middle of the year.

Around 37,000 persons get daily water transported by tankers and there are a set number of cash-for-work programmes in the district that pay around 800 rupees (about six dollars) per person per day, for projects aimed at renovating water and irrigtation networks.

But to carry out even the limited work underway now, a weekly allocation of over nine million rupees is needed, money that is slow in coming.

“But the bigger problem is if it does not rain soon, then we will have to travel out of the province to get water, more people will need assistance for a longer period, that means more money [will be required],” Sumanadas said.

In April this year, a joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the government warned that half the population in the Mullaithivu district and one in three people in the Kilinochchi district were food insecure.

Sumanadas is certain that in the ensuing four months, the figure has gone up.

Overall, crop production has decreased by 42 percent compared to 2013 levels, while rice yields fell to 17 percent below last year’s output of four million metric tons.

In fact, the government decided to lift import bans on the staple rice stocks in April and is expected to make up for at least five percent of harvest losses through imports.

The main water source in the district, the sprawling Iranamadu Reservoir – 50 square km in size, with the capacity to irrigate 106,000 acres – is a gigantic dust bowl these days, the official said. That scenario, however, is not limited to the north and east.

“All reservoir levels are down to around 30 percent in the island,” Ivan de Silva, the secretary to the minister of irrigation and water management, told IPS.

He attributes the debilitating impact of the drought to two factors working in tandem: the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the lack of proper water management.

“In the past we excepted a severe drought every 10 to 15 years, now it is happening almost every other year,” de Silva said.

A similar drought in late 2012 also impacted close to two million people on this island of just over 20 million people, and forced agricultural output down to 20 percent of previous yields.

That drought however was broken by the onset of floods brought on by hurricane Nilam in late 2012.

“We should have policies that allow us to manage our water resources better, so that we can better meet these changing weather patterns,” he said.

The country is slowly waking up to the grim reality that a changing climate requires better management. This week the government launched a 100-million-dollar climate resilience programme that will spend the bulk of its funds, around 90 million dollars, on infrastructure upgrades.

Of this, 47 million dollars will go towards improving drainage networks and water systems, while 36 million will go towards fortifying roads and seven million will be poured into projects to improve school safety in disaster-prone areas.

Part of the money will also be allocated to studying the nine main river basins around the country for better flood and drought management policies.

S M Mohammed, the secretary to the ministry of disaster management, admitted that national coping levels were not up to par when she said at the launch of the programme on Sep. 26, “Our country must change from a tradition of responding [to natural disasters] to a culture of resilience.”

Such a policy, if implemented, could bring a world of change to the lives of millions who are slowly cooking in the blistering sun.

Edited by Kanya D’Almieda

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

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

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Conflict Keeps Mothers From Healthcare Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:52:47 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136884 Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BASTAR, India, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Twenty-five-year-old Khemwanti Pradhan is a ‘Mitanin’ – a trained and accredited community health worker – based in the Nagarbeda village of the Bastar region in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Since 2007, Pradhan has been informing local women about government health schemes and urging them to deliver their babies at a hospital instead of in their own homes.

Ironically, when Pradhan gave birth to her first child in 2012, she herself was unable to visit a hospital because government security forces chose that very day to conduct a raid on her village, which is believed to be a hub of armed communist insurgents.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel." -- Daniel Mate, a youth activist from the town of Tengnoupal, on the India-Myanmar border
In the panic and chaos that ensued, the village all but shut down, leaving Pradhan to manage on her own.

“Security men were carrying out a door-to-door search for Maoist rebels. They arrested many young men from our village. My husband and my brother-in-law were scared and both fled to the nearby forest.

“When my labour pains began, there was nobody around. I boiled some water and delivered my own baby,” she said.

Thanks to her training as a Mitanin, which simply means ‘friend’ in the local language, Pradhan had a smooth and safe delivery.

But not everyone is so lucky. Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services.

This past June, for instance, 22-year-old Anita Reang, a Bru tribal refugee woman in the conflict-ridden Mamit district of the northeastern state of Mizoram, began haemorrhaging while giving birth at home.

The young girl eventually bled to death, Anita’s mother Malati told IPS, adding that they couldn’t leave the house because they were surrounded by Mizo neighbours, who were hostile to the Bru family.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a global charity that provides healthcare in conflict situations and disaster zones across the world, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity all increase during times of conflict.

This could have huge repercussions in India, home to over 31 million women in the reproductive age group according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The country is a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 103 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015, and is still nursing a maternal mortality rate of 230 deaths per 100,000 births.

There is a dearth of comprehensive nationwide data on the impact of conflict on maternal health but experts are agreed that it exacerbates the issue of access to clinics and facilities.

MSF’s country medical coordinator, Simon Jones, told IPS that in India the “most common causes of neonatal death are […] prematurity and low birth weight, neonatal infections and birth asphyxia and trauma.”

The government runs nationwide maternal and child health schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karykram that provide free medicine, free healthcare, nutritional supplements and also monetary incentives to women who give birth at government facilities.

But according to Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, an advocate in the Guwahati High Court in the northeastern state of Assam, who also leads a rights protection group called the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, women wishing to access government programmes must travel to an official health centre – an arduous task for those who reside in conflict-prone regions.

In central and eastern India alone, this amounts to some 22 million women.

There is also a trust deficit between women in a conflict area and the health workers, Laskar told IPS. “Women are [often] scared of health workers, who they think hold a bias against them and might ill-treat them.”

For Jomila Bibi, a 31-year-old Muslim refugee woman from Assam’s Kokrajhar district, such fears were not unfounded; the young woman’s newborn daughter died last October after doctors belonging to a rival ethnic group allegedly declined to attend to her.

Bibi was on the run following ethnic clashes between Bengali Muslims and members of the Bodo tribal community in Assam that have left nearly half a million people displaced across the region.

Daniel Mate, a youth activist in the town of Tengnoupal, which lies on India’s conflicted border with Myanmar, recounted several cases of women refusing to seek professional help, despite having severe post-delivery complications, due to compromised security around them.

“When there is more than one armed group [as in the case of the armed insurgency in Tengnoupal and surrounding areas in northeast India’s Manipur state], it is difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy,” he told IPS.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel,” added Mate, who campaigns for crowd-funded medical supplies for the remotest villages in the region, which are plagued by the presence of over a dozen militant groups.

The solution, according to MSF’s Jones, is an overall improvement in comprehensive maternal care including services like Caesarean sections and blood transfusions.

Equally important is the sensitisation of health workers and security personnel, who could persuade more women to seek healthcare, even in troubled times.

Other experts suggest regular mobile healthcare services and on-the-spot midwifery training to women in remote and sensitive regions.

According to Kaushalendra Kukku, a doctor in the Kanker government hospital in Bastar, “When violence erupts, all systems collapse. The best way to minimise the risk of maternal death in such a situation is to take the services to a woman, instead of expecting her to come to [the services].”

Pradhan, who has now resumed her duties as a community health worker, agrees. “I was able to deliver safely because I was trained. If other women receive the same training, they can also help themselves.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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OPINION: Delivering on the Promises of the Global Partnership for Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:15:45 +0000 Wu Hongbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136877

Wu Hongbo is the under-secretary-general for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)

By Wu Hongbo
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Persistent gaps between the promises made, and actually delivered, by developed countries to developing countries, hold back efforts to improve people’s lives and end poverty.

The poorest countries need more access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies, if we are going to make greater progress on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In 2000, the world’s developed countries committed to help developing countries meet the MDGS by 2015 through what became known as the Global Partnership for Development. The targets for the partnership were combined into the eighth Goal (MDG 8).

The promises under goal 8 included providing developing countries with greater access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies. This was meant to help the world’s poorest countries make progress on the first seven MDGs.

The idea was that if the targets of Goal 8 were achieved, then developing countries would have strengthened their earnings from trade and eased their sovereign debt difficulties so that—coupled with enhanced aid and appropriate access to essential medicines and new technologies—countries would be in a better position to improve the lives of their citizens.

Over 30 U.N. organisations co-led by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been tracking the fulfillment of these promises in the annual MDG Gap Task Force Report.

Today, the global partnership for development is strong and last year recorded the largest level of official development assistance. But much unfinished business remains as we approach the deadline for the MDGs.

Assistance to the poorest countries remains far below what is needed and what was promised

After two consecutive years of falling volumes, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 135 billion dollars in 2013. Seventeen of 28 donor countries increased their development assistance, and five have met the target of disbursing 0.7 percent of their national income to developing countries. Despite this progress, we are still far behind our target.

A 180-billion-dollar gap remains between the aid delivered and the amounts promised by developed countries. In addition, aid continues to be heavily concentrated with the top 20 recipients receiving more than half of all aid.

Despite a 12.3 percent increase in aid to the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) in 2013, bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa fell four percent between 2012 and 2013 to 26.2 billion dollars.

Close the trade gaps

Developed countries must do more to address the negative impacts of non-tariff measures on the ability of developing countries to participate in the global economy. While developed countries continue to lower tariffs and allow the proportion of duty free imports from developing countries to rise, new trade restrictions have been introduced.

We need a final push towards improving market access for developing countries, and continuing efforts to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies, trade-distorting domestic support and protectionist policies that inhibit access to the global economy.

Debt relief promises kept, but new risks arise

Debt relief programmes for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are coming to a conclusion. Under the HIPC initiative, 35 of 39 eligible countries have reached the completion point as of March 2014 and as a result, debt service burdens have been reduced substantially.

It is encouraging that government spending on poverty reduction in these countries has increased considerably. Nonetheless, some of these countries are again at risk of debt distress and the group known as “small States” is particularly at risk because they often do not qualify for debt relief.

Greater access to essential medicines and technologies needed now

Global action and awareness has enhanced access to affordable essential medicines. However, the stock of medicines in many developing countries remains insufficient and unaffordable.

Developing countries also have more access to some new technologies, especially information and communication technologies. Yet, large gaps remain in access to many new technologies, such as broadband Internet because of the high cost.

The work ahead for the international community has been laid out. Now is the time for the world to seize this opportunity to stand by our promises and deliver on our commitments to eradicate poverty, raise people’s living standards and sustain the environment.

As the deadline for achieving the MDGs approaches and Member States of the United Nations prepare to launch a new sustainable development agenda, we must do our utmost to close the remaining gaps. With little more than one year remaining, now is the time to take action.

Let us all work together—governments, international institutions, all citizens of the globe—to commit to concrete accelerated actions in achieving all MDGs, as well as to a renewed global development cooperation, to underpin our development efforts, so that we can usher in a more sustainable future.

 

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