Inter Press Service » Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:36:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Stunting: The Cruel Curse of Malnutrition in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:59:26 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135646 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
RASUWA, Nepal, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Durga Ghimire had her first child at the age of 18 and the second at 21. As a young mother, Durga didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of her own health during pregnancy.

“I didn’t realise it would have an impact on my baby,” she says as she sits on the porch of her house in Laharepauwa, some 120 kilometers from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, nursing her third newborn child.

It is late in the afternoon and she is waiting expectantly for her two older daughters to return from school. One is nine and the other is six, but they look much smaller than their actual age.

“They are smaller in height and build and teachers at school say their learning process is also much slower,” Durga tells IPS. She is worried that the girls are stunted, and is trying to ensure her third child gets proper care.

A recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report shows that Nepal is among 10 countries in the world with the highest stunting prevalence, and one of the top 20 countries with the highest number of stunted children.

“Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.” -- Peter Oyloe, chief of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara (‘Good Nutrition’) project at Save the Children-Nepal
UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five.

“Nepal’s ranking […] is worrying, not just globally but also in South Asia,” Giri Raj Subedi, senior public health officer at Nepal’s ministry of health and population, tells IPS.

A 2013 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) done by Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) says while the number of stunted children declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2011, it is still high above the 30 percent target set by the U.N..

“Stunting is a specific measure of the height of a child compared to the age of the child, and it is indicative of how well the child is developing cognitively,” says Peter Oyloe, chief of party of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara, or ‘Good Nutrition’ project at Save the Children Nepal.

Oyloe adds, “Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Child health and nutrition experts argue that, while poverty is directly related to inadequate intake of food, it is not the sole indicator of malnutrition or increased stunting.

Saba Mebrahtu, chief of the nutrition section at UNICEF-Nepal, says the immediate causes include poor nutrient intake, particularly early in life. Fifty percent of stunting happens during pregnancy and the rest after infants are born.

“When we are talking about nutrient-rich food […] we are talking about ensuring that children get enough of it even before they are born,” says Mebrahtu. The time between conception and a child’s second birthday is a crucial period, she said, one of rapid growth and cognitive development.

Thus it is incumbent on expecting mothers to follow a careful diet before the baby is born.

Basic education could save lives

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, lives a few doors down from Durga. Separated by a few houses, their approaches to nutrition are worlds apart.

Ghimire breast-fed her 18-month-old daughter exclusively for six months. She continues to make sure that her own diet includes green leafy vegetables, meat or eggs, along with rice and other staples, as she is still nursing.

She gives credit to the female community health-worker in her village, who informed her about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

In preparation for her daughter’s feeding time, Ghimire mixes together a bowl of homemade leeto, a porridge containing one-part whole grains such as millet or wheat and two-parts pulses such as beans or soy.

“I was only using grains to make the leeto before I was taught to make it properly by the health workers and Suaahara,” she says.

However, making leeto was not the most important lesson Ghimire learned as an expecting mother. “I had no idea that simple things like washing my hands properly could have such a long term effect on my daughter’s health,” she says.

Even seemingly common infections like diarrhoea can, in the first two years, put a child at greater risk of stunting.

“That is because the nutrients children are using for development are used instead to fight against infection,” says Mebrahtu emphasising the need for simple practices such as proper hand washing and cleaning of utensils.

If children are suffering from infection due to poor hygiene and sanitation they can have up to six diarrhoeal episodes per year, she warns, adding that while “children recover from these infections, they don’t come back to what they were before.”

Fighting on all fronts

Food insecurity is one of the biggest contributing factors to stunting in Nepal. Rugged hills and mountains comprise 77 percent of the country’s total land area, where 52 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people live.

Food insecurity is worst in the central and far western regions of the country; the prevalance of stunting in these areas is also extreme, with rates above 60 percent in some locations.

Thus experts recognise the need to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts.

“Our work in nutrition has proven again and again that a single approach to stunting doesn’t work because the causes are so many – it really has to be tackled in a coordinated way,” says UNICEF’s Mebrahtu.

In 2009 the government conducted the Nutrition Assessment and Gap Analysis (NAGA), which recommended building a multi-sector nutrition architecture to address the gaps in health and nutrition programmes.

“The NAGA study stated clearly that nutrition was not the responsibility of one department, as was previously thought,” Radha Krishna Pradhan, programme director of health and nutrition at Nepal’s NPC, tells IPS.

Nepal is also one of the first countries to commit to the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which recognises multiple causes of malnutrition and recommends that partners work across sectors to achieve nutritional goals.

Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP).

Public health experts say MSNP is a living example of the SUN movement in action and offers interventions with the aim of reducing the current prevalence of malnutrition by one-third.

Interventions include biannual vitamin D and folic acid supplements for expectant mothers, deworming for children, prenatal care, and life skills for adolescent girls.

On the agricultural front, ministries aim to increase the availability of food at the community level through homestead food production, access to clean and cheap energy sources such a biogas and improved cooking stoves, and the education of men to share household loads.

MSNP’s long-term vision is to work towards significantly reducing malnutrition so it is no longer an impending factor towards development. The World Bank has estimated that malnutrition can cause productivity losses of as much as 10 percent of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to three percent of a country’s GDP.

At present the Plan is in its initial phase and has been implemented in six out of 75 districts in Nepal since 2013.

(END)

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Food Insecurity a New Threat for Lebanon’s Syrian Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-insecurity-a-new-threat-for-lebanons-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-insecurity-a-new-threat-for-lebanons-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-insecurity-a-new-threat-for-lebanons-syrian-refugees/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:01:34 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135672 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

A declining economy and a severe drought have raised concerns in Lebanon over food security as the country faces one of its worst refugee crises, resulting from the nearby Syria war, and it is these refugees and impoverished Lebanese border populations that are most vulnerable to this new threat.

A severe drought has put the Lebanese agricultural sector at risk. According to the Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport, average rainfall in 2014 is estimated at 470 mm, far below annual averages of 824 mm.

The drought has left farmers squabbling over water. “We could not plant this year and our orchards are drying up, we are only getting six hours of water per week,” says Georges Karam, the mayor of Zabougha, a town located in the Bekfaya area in Lebanon.“Any major domestic or regional security or political disruptions which undermine economic growth and job creation could lead to higher poverty levels and associated food insecurity” – Maurice Saade of the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa Department

The drought has resulted in a substantial decline in agricultural production throughout the country. “The most affected products are fruits and vegetables, the prices of which have increased, thus affecting economic access of the poor and vulnerable populations,”says Maurice Saade, Senior Agriculture Economist at the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa Department.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs. Although most households in Lebanon are considered food secure, lower income households are vulnerable to inflationary trends in food items because they tend to spend a larger share of their disposable income on staples, explains Saade.

Lebanon’s poverty pockets are generally concentrated in the north (Akkar and Dinnyeh), Northern Bekaa (Baalbek and Hermel) and in the south, as well as the slums located south of Beirut. These areas currently host the largest number areas of refugee population, fleeing the nearby Syria war.

According to Clemens Breisinger, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Lebanon currently imports about 90 percent of its food needs. “This means meant that the drought’s impact should be limited in term of the food available on the market,” he says.

However, populations residing in Lebanon’s impoverished areas are still at risk, especially those who are not financially supported by relatives (as is the custom in Lebanon) or benefit from state aid or from local charities operating in border areas. Lebanese host populations are most likely the most vulnerable to food insecurity, explains Saade.

According to the UNHCR, there are just over one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. While the food situation is still manageable thanks to efforts of international donors who maintain food supplies to the population, “these rations are nonetheless always threatened by the lack of donor funding,” Saade stresses. In addition, refugee populations are largely dependent on food aid, because they are essentially comprised of women and children, with little or no access to the job market.

Given that Lebanon depends to a large extent on food imports, mostly from international markets, maintaining food security also depends on the ability of lower income groups to preserve their purchasing power as well as the stability of these external markets.

“This means that any major domestic or regional security or political disruptions which undermine economic growth and job creation could lead to higher poverty levels and associated food insecurity,” says Saade.

In addition any spikes in international food prices, such as those witnessed in 2008, could lead to widespread hunger among vulnerable populations.

Breisinger believes that despite increased awareness of the international community, the factors leading to a new food crisis are still present.Increased demand for food generally, fuel prices, the drop in food reserves, certain government policies as well as the diversion of grain and oilseed crops for biofuel production are elements that put pressure on the food supply chain and can eventually contribute to hunger in certain vulnerable countries.

To avoid such a risk, some countries have implemented specific measures such as building grain reserves. “I am not sure how Lebanon has reacted so far,” says Breisinger.  With little government oversight and widespread corruption, Lebanon’s vulnerability to food insecurity has been compounded by unforgiving weather conditions, a refugee crisis and worsening economic conditions which, if left unattended, could spiral out of control.

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U.S. Debating “Historic” Support for Off-Grid Electricity in Africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-debating-historic-support-for-off-grid-electricity-in-africa/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:02:57 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135654 Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sub-Saharan Africa has large potential for hydropower generation, but is yet to exploit it. Pictured here is the Kariba Dam. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Pressure is building here for lawmakers to pass a bill that would funnel billions of dollars of U.S. investment into strengthening Africa’s electricity production and distribution capabilities, and could offer broad new support for off-grid opportunities.

With half of the U.S. Congress having already acted on the issue, supporters are now hoping that the Senate will follow suit before a major summit takes place here during the first week of August. That event is expected to include heads of state or representatives from as many as 50 African countries."We could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.” -- Justin Guay

The summit, the first time that such an event has been organised in Washington, will focus in particular on investment opportunities. As such, many are hoping that the three-day event’s centrepiece will be President Barack Obama’s signing of a broad investment deal aimed at Africa’s power sector.

“The overwhelming majority of the African leaders are going to be coming to Washington emphasising trade and investment, and in that context this issue is very central to their many constituencies – touching on economic, political and social issues,” Ben Leo, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Coming forward with something concrete that will lead to additional capital, tools or engagement will be noticed and welcomed. But lack thereof would also have a message for African leaders and others travelling to Washington.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee did pass a bill, called the Energize Africa Act, late last month, but much remains to be done. The legislation now needs to be voted on by the full Senate, after which the final proposal would have to be brought into alignment with a similar bill voted through by the House of Representatives in May.

Meanwhile, the entire Congress is scheduled to go into recess for a month at the end of July. Still, backroom talks are reportedly well underway.

“There’s growing pressure and momentum in the Senate, as well as a growing appreciation of how doing this is both strategic and important,” Leo says. “Not having a bill to sign would certainly be a missed opportunity in terms of the optics and concreteness of action, either before or when everyone’s in Washington.”

Some 68 percent of the sub-Saharan population lacks access to electricity. Both the House and Senate bills would seek to assist African countries in expanding basic electricity access to some 50 million people.

“Our support for this bill is a direct response to what we hear from African leaders, citizens and global development experts,” Tom Hart, U.S. executive director of ONE, an advocacy group that focuses on eliminating poverty in Africa and has mounted a major campaign in favour of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“[O]ne of the biggest challenges for overcoming extreme poverty is the inability for millions of people to access the basic electricity necessary to power health clinics, farms, schools, factories and businesses.”

Beyond the grid

The current legislative push comes a year after President Obama unveiled a new initiative called Power Africa, proposed during his June 2013 trip to the continent. Seen as the president’s signature development plan for the region, Power Africa aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan countries through a mix of public and private investment.

While Power Africa is ambitious, its long-term impact greatly depends on the legislation currently under debate.

For instance, while Power Africa directly affects just six countries, the bills before Congress take a continental approach. Likewise, as an executive-level project, the initiative’s policy priorities can only be cemented through full legislation.

Power Africa initially came under significant fire from environmental and some development groups for its reliance on fossil fuel (particularly natural gas) and centralised power projects. Many groups say that such a focus is ultimately counterproductive for poor and marginalised communities.

Yet last month, the United States announced a billion-dollar initiative to focus on off-grid energy projects across the continent. This approach could now be codified through the legislative discussions currently taking place in Congress.

“Congress is now looking to pass a bill that would be relatively historic in terms of its support for beyond-the-grid markets,” Justin Guay, Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS. “The [Senate] bill is the first legislation we’ve seen starting to drive investment to unlock that potential.”

To date, Guay says, most investment from the U.S. government and multilateral agencies has skewed in favour of fossil fuels and centralised power generation. For the first time, the new legislation could start to balance out this mix – a potential boon for the environment and local communities alike.

“If you look at the energy access problem in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s largely a rural issue. So this bill could stimulate distributed, clean-energy solutions that can get into the hands of poor populations today, rather than forcing them to wait decades in the dark for power,” Guay says.

“In this way, we could see an energy revolution that looks similar to what happened with mobile phones – leapfrogging centralised systems altogether and moving towards transformative solutions.”

The House’s companion bill includes fewer progressive provisions than the Senate version, but it also doesn’t include amendments that could deliberately doom the legislation. Still, it remains to be seen how conservatives in the House react to the Senate’s proposals.

Strengthened support

These new opportunities have broadened support for the Senate’s legislation. On Friday, for instance, the Global Off Grid Lighting Association, a Germany-based trade group, expressed its “strong support” for the Energize Africa Act.

The legislation is also being welcomed by African environmentalists.

“We believe this bill has emerged as a strong source of support for our efforts to address energy poverty,” Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a letter to U.S. lawmakers from earlier this month.

“We are particularly supportive of new efforts to expand loan guarantee authority at USAID” – the main U.S. foreign aid agency – “as well as the goal of ending kerosene based lighting. Both of these aspects are critical to ending energy poverty in poor rural areas.”

Meanwhile, both the House and Senate bills have enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support. Still, it’s not clear whether that will translate into the passage of a new law – particularly by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, slated for Aug. 4-6.

“There’s not a lot of time left, so it’s is very difficult,” the Center for Global Development’s Leo says. “However, if it doesn’t pass by the summit, the summit will invariably create a lot of action shortly thereafter.”

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Indigenous Communities Say Education, Funding Key to Fighting HIV/AIDS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135655 Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Marama Pala, hailing from Waikanae on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, was diagnosed with HIV at 22. The news of her diagnosis spread like wildfire in her tight-knit Maori community.

That was in 1993 but even today, she says, there is a “shame and blame” attitude surrounding HIV, which disproportionately impacts the region’s indigenous population.

“If you are HIV positive, you are seen as ‘dirty’, as someone who must be a drug user or a prostitute. Our people are not seeking help because of this stigma, discrimination and criminalisation – the fear of being charged, hunted down, ostracised or put in jail,” says Pala, who, together with her Pacific Islander HIV-positive husband, runs the INA (Maori, Indigenous, South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation. The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People." -- Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
The Foundation takes a cultural approach to HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention and intervention.

“In the past five years the number of new infections has […] increased in the Pacific Island community living in New Zealand and especially among the Maoris because we are late testers. People who [engage] in risky behaviour [seldom] get tested until they are very, very sick,” Pala, a mother of two, tells IPS.

“Our women are dying because they are afraid to go on medication, partly because they are afraid of the stigma and discrimination. Antiretroviral drugs are widely available in our country and they should not be dying in this time and age,” says Pala, who is a member of the board of directors for the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO).

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programmes designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say.

Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV.

“There are 130 aboriginal women who are living with HIV in Australia, but apart from myself there is only one other woman who speaks openly about living with HIV,” says Michelle Tobin, who contracted the disease at the age of 21.

She began dating a man who told her that he had HIV but “I was naïve and just believed that it wouldn’t happen to me,” she admits. “Within six months I was diagnosed with HIV. I had a baby so I focused all my attention on her.”

“In the early 1990s in Melbourne we weren’t offered treatments when we were first diagnosed. In those days we lost a lot of people in the early stage of the disease, including my late husband,” Tobin, who belongs to the Yorta Yorta Nation, tells IPS.

As a descendant of the Stolen Generation and an aboriginal woman living with HIV and now AIDS, she has experienced stigma and discrimination, especially from within her own family, who disowned her.

Some in her community still think she is contagious and don’t want to be near her, but her struggle has made Tobin a passionate and vocal advocate for indigenous women living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Tobin, chair of the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and a committee member of PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network), “Aboriginal women are a minority within the minority of the HIV epidemic. We need more resources and funding [to] enable women to speak out about prevention, treatments, isolation, confidentiality, housing and the whole spectrum of issues that impact us.”

In addition to endorsing targets set out in the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Australia has also adopted the Eora Action Plan on HIV 2014, which sets strategic targets to bring greater attention to HIV prevention, including best clinical care for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with HIV.

The recent International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS hosted by the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) in partnership with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organising Committee (AATSIOC), held in Sydney on Jul. 17-19, was themed ‘Our story, Our Time, Our Future.’

It highlighted the need for increased epidemiological data with a focus on indigenous ethnicity. Lack of data about the level of treatment take-up amongst indigenous people living with HIV is posing a challenge for Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategies.

“We have evidence in Canada that aboriginal people are getting HIV three-and-a-half times faster than the rate of the general population,” Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), tells IPS.

“We believe those trends exist all over the world, but we don’t have the epidemiological data. We are advocating for epidemiological evidence as that is what we need for the dominant cultures to recognise us as a key population at greater risk of HIV and AIDS along with gay men and sex workers, so governments can free up the money for us and we can create our own solutions,” he asserts.

Forty-nine-year-old Stratton, a citizen of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Ontario, with mixed English and Ojibwe heritage, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

He believes that indigenous people are particularly vulnerable due to “colonisation, neo-colonialism, resource extraction, and assimilation amongst other similar issues” that push them down on social determinants of health and put them at higher risk of all poor health outcomes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was substantially greater than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.5 compared with 0.4 per 100,000 population).

Between 2004 and 2014, 231 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with HIV. In 2013, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was greater in the indigenous population (5.4 per 100,000) compared to the Australian-born non-indigenous population (3.9 per 100,000).

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation,” Stratton says. “The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to be able to leverage international human rights mechanisms so countries can be held accountable.

“We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, which talks of how to engage indigenous people,” he concludes.

IIWGHA has been working at increasing knowledge and addressing the entrenched stigma of HIV and AIDS within indigenous communities and supporting indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives.

Its mandate and strategic plan are based on the 2006 ‘Toronto Charter: Indigenous People’s Action Plan’ that acknowledges the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy, social justice and human rights.

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, has been working with women living way below the poverty line, some of whom had their children taken away when they were diagnosed with HIV.

Diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44 while actively using drugs in Toronto, Peltier believes systemic issues – such as the fear of losing one’s child to the authorities – act as barriers preventing people from discussing their condition.

“A social system that is supposed to be there to support women is actually the one that is putting barriers up for the women,” Peltier tells IPS.

When she decided to go home and reconnect with her family and her First Nations community in Wikwemikong, Ontario, some supported her but others remained reluctant to embrace her.

People wouldn’t let her use their dishes and asked her to clean the toilet after use.

“Soon rumours began to circulate and one of the words being used to talk about me was ‘Wiinaapineh’ (dirty disease). I stood my ground and became better with medication, and my family’s support and encouragement,” Peltier says.

“People have to know that there is help available, there is treatment and prevention and that they can have a good quality life,” concludes Peltier, who is today a great-grandmother.

For her, one of the key responses to high rates impacting indigenous women is to empower them to tap into their inner strength and resilience, and break the code of silence to speak up about HIV/AIDS

(END)

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Fragility of WTO’s Bali Package Exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:19:23 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135658 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

The “fragility” of the World Trade Organization’s ‘Bali package’ was brought into the open at the weekend meeting in Sydney, Australia, of trade ministers from the world’s 20 major economies (G20).

The Bali package is a trade agreement resulting from the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December last year, and forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.

The G20 group of countries includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.“… the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues ... That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing” – South African trade minister Rob Davies

During the Sydney meeting, India and South Africa challenged the industrialised countries present to come clean on implementation of the issues concerning the poor countries in agriculture and development, according to participants present at the two-day meeting.

Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid-November, Sydney hosted the trade ministerial meeting to discuss implementation of the Bali package, particularly the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). The TFA has been at the heart of the industrialised countries’ trade agenda since 1996.

More importantly, Australia, as host of the November meeting, has decided to prepare the ground for pursuing the new trade agenda based on global value chains in which trade facilitation and services related to finance, information, telecommunications, and logistics play a main role.

“I said the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues,” South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies told IPS Monday. “That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing.”

Davies said that “the issue is that while South Africa doesn’t need any assistance, many developing and poor countries have to make investments and implement new procedures [because of the TFA]. What was there in the [TF] agreement is a series of best endeavour provisions in terms of technical and financial support together with best endeavour undertakings in terms of issues pertaining to least developed countries in agriculture and so on.”

Over the last few months, several industrialised countries, including the United States, have said that they can address issues in the Bali package concerning the poor countries as part of the Doha Single Undertaking, which implies that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The specific issues that concern the interests of the least-developed countries include elimination of cotton subsidies and unimpeded market access for cotton exported by the African countries, preferential rules of origin for the poorest countries to export industrial products to the rich countries, and preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, among others.

“Even if there is an early harvest there has to be an outcome on other issues in the Bali package,” the South African minister argued.

There is lot of concern at the G20 meeting that if the trade facilitation protocol is not implemented by the end of this month, the WTO would be undermined.

“What we said from South Africa is to commit on the delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package,” Davies told IPS. “And a number of developing countries present at the meeting agreed with our formulation that there has to be substantial delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package.”

At the Sydney meeting, the industrialised countries pushed hard for a common stand on the protocol for implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement by July 31. The TF protocol is a prerequisite for implementing the trade facilitation agreement by the end of July 2015.

The United States also cautioned that if there is no outcome by the end of this month, the post-Bali package would face problems. “Talking about post-Bali agenda while failing to implement the TFA isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, it’s slaughtering the horse,” U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman tweeted from Sydney.

The industrialised countries offered assurances that they would address the other issues in the Bali package, including public distribution programmes for food security, raised by developing countries. But they were not prepared to wait for any delay in the implementation of the TF agreement.

Over the last four months, the developing and poorest countries have realised that their issues in the Bali package are being given short shrift while all the energies are singularly focused on implementing the trade facilitation agreement.

The African countries are the first to point out the glaring mismatch between implementation of the TFA on the one hand and lack of any concerted effort to address other issues in the Bali package on the other. The African Union has suggested implementing the TFA on a provisional basis until all other issues in the Doha Development Agenda are implemented.

The industrialised countries mounted unprecedented pressure and issued dire threats to the African countries to back off from their stand on the provisional agreement. At the AU leaders meeting in Malibu, Equatorial Guinea, last month, African countries were forces to retract from their position on the provisional agreement.

However, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda insisted on a clear linkage between the TFA and the Doha agenda.

India is fighting hard, along with other developing countries in the G33 coalition of developing countries on trade and economic issues, for a permanent solution to exempt public distribution programmes for food security from WTO rules in agriculture.

New Delhi has found out over the last six months that the industrialised countries are not only creating hurdles for finding a simple and effective solution for public distribution programmes but continue to raise extraneous issues that are well outside the purview of the mandate to arrive at an agreement on food security.

India announced on July 2 that it will not join consensus unless all issues concerning agriculture and development are addressed along with the TF protocol.

India’s new trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman, along with South Africa, made it clear in Sydney that they could only join consensus on the protocol once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package are fully addressed.

Against this backdrop, the G20 trade ministers on Saturday failed to bridge their differences arising from their colliding trade agendas.

The developing countries, particularly India, want firm commitment that there is a permanent solution on public distribution programmes for food security along with all other issues concerning development, an Indian official told IPS.

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Refugees Living a Nightmare in Northern Pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:15:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135649 Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Some fled on foot, others boarded trucks along with luggage, rations and cattle. Many were separated from families, or collapsed from exhaustion along the way. They don’t know where their next meal will come from, or how they will provide for their children.

In the vast refugee camps of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, civilians who fled the Pakistan Army’s military offensive against the Taliban in the country’s northern Waziristan Agency now walk around in a state of delirious confusion.

Medical officials here say that almost all the 870,000 internally displaced people in KP are deeply traumatised by over a decade of war in the northern provinces, where they were caught in the crossfire between government forces and militants who crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2001.

“We examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children." -- Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar
Now, as the army conducts air raids on the 11,585-square-kilometre North Waziristan Agency in a determined bid to wipe out the Taliban, war-weary civilians are once again bearing the brunt of the conflict, forced to leave their ancestral homes and seek refuge in neighbouring KP where shelter, clean water, food and medical supplies are stretched thin.

IDPs have been streaming in since the military operation began on Jun. 15, reaching close to a million by mid-July, officials here say. So far, aid has come in the form of food rations and medical supplies for the wounded, as well as those left dehydrated by the scorching 45-degree heat.

But very little is being done to address the psychological trauma that affects nearly everyone in these camps.

“The displaced population has been living in rented houses or with relatives where they lack water, sanitation and food due to which they are facing water and food-borne ailments,” Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Mian Iftikhar Hussain tells IPS. “But the main problems are psychological disorders, which are ‘unseen’.”

Sitting in front of the Iftikhar Psychiatric Hospital in Peshawar, capital of KP and 250 miles from the largest refugee camp in Bannu, 50-year-old Zarsheda Bibi tells IPS her entire family fled Waziristan, leaving everything behind.

Far worse than the loss of her home and possessions, she says, is the loss of her one-year-old grandson, who died on the long and arduous journey to KP.

“She doesn’t sleep properly because she dreams of her deceased grandson every night,” says Iftikhar, who is treating Bibi for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to Javid Khan, an official with the National Disaster Management Authority, PTSD is one of the most common ailments among the displaced.

He recounts to IPS his recent interaction with a woman in a camp in Bannu, whose husband was killed by shelling in Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan.

“Now she is completely disoriented and extremely concerned about the future of her three sons and one daughter,” he says, adding that those who were uprooted are sure to develop long as well as short-term disorders as a result of prolonged stress, anxiety and fear.

Other conditions could include de-personalisation, classified by DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder in which a person experiences out-of-body feelings and severe disorientation; as well as de-realisation, an alteration in perceptions of the external world to the point that it appears unreal, or ‘dream-like’.

Experts say that people torn from their native villages, thrust into completely new surroundings and experiencing insecurity on a daily basis are highly susceptible to these types of conditions, which are associated with severe trauma.

Khan says women and children, who comprise 73 percent of IDPs according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are likely to be disproportionately impacted by PTSD, as well as disorders related to anxiety, stress, panic and depression.

Muhammad Junaid, a psychologist working with the displaced, says that victims are also suffering from poor self-esteem, as they are forced to occupy tents and shacks, in extremely unsanitary conditions.

Mothers are particularly impacted by their inability to provide for their families, he tells IPS, adding that permanent phobias are not uncommon.

Another major concern among health officials here is how the situation will affect children, many of whom are at a very sensitive age.

“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through dramatic phases of physical and mental development,” Junaid says. “During this transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish familial relationships, as well as bonds with their community and society as a whole.”

Ripped from their ancestral homes and traditional communities, he says, this process will be interrupted, resulting in long-term mental conditions unless properly addressed.

Parents are equally worried about what displacement might mean for their children’s education.

“Two of my sons are very good at their studies,” Muhammad Arif, a shopkeeper from Mirali, an administrative division in North Waziristan, confides to IPS. “They would do well in class and get good positions. Now there’s no school and I fear they will not progress with their education.”

Even if they were to return to Waziristan, he says, the future looks bleak, since the army operation has devastated homes, buildings and business establishments. Everything will have to be built back up from scratch before the people can return to a normal life, he laments.

After nearly a month in the camp, Arif’s 10-year-old son Sadiq has all but given up hope. Through tears, he tells IPS that children like him have “no sleep, no play, no education.”

“I don’t know what the future holds for us,” he says.

For long-time health experts in the region, the situation is a frightening climax of a crisis that has been building for years, ever since the army began a crackdown on insurgents in the rugged, mountainous regions of northern Pakistan nearly 12 years ago.

“Around 50 percent of the residents of FATA have suffered psychological problems due to militancy and subsequent military operations,” Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar tells IPS.

“We have examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children,” he says.

Since 2005, nearly 2.1 million FATA residents have taken refuge in KP, according to Javid, posing a real challenge to the local government, which has struggled to balance the needs of the displaced with its own impoverished local population.

The latest wave of refugees has only added to the government’s woes, and many in the region fear the situation is on a knife’s edge, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, when there is a desperate need for proper sanitation and food to break the daily fast.

(END)

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Malnutrition Hits Syrians Hard as UN Authorises Cross-Border Access http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/malnutrition-hits-syrians-hard-as-un-authorises-cross-border-access/#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 12:09:41 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135643 Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria, in autumn 2013. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria, in autumn 2013. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
BEIRUT, Jul 19 2014 (IPS)

Gaunt, haggard Syrian children begging and selling gum have become a fixture in streets of the Lebanese capital; having fled the ongoing conflict, they continue to be stalked by its effects.

Most who make it across the Syria-Lebanon border live in informal settlements in extremely poor hygienic conditions, which for many means diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, and – for the most vulnerable – sometimes death.

By the end of January, almost 40,000 Syrian children had been born as refugees, while the total number of minors who had fled abroad quadrupled to over 1.2 million between March 2013 and March 2014.Most who make it across the Syria-Lebanon border live in informal settlements in extremely poor hygienic conditions, which for many means diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, and – for the most vulnerable – sometimes death.

Lack of proper healthcare, food and clean water has resulted in countless loss of life during the Syrian conflict, now well into its fourth year. These deaths are left out of the daily tallies of ‘war casualties’, even as stunted bodies and emaciated faces peer out of photos from areas under siege.

The case of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp on the outskirts of Damascus momentarily grabbed the international community’s attention earlier this year, when Amnesty International released a report detailing the deaths of nearly 200 people under a government siege. Many other areas have experienced and continue to suffer the same fate, out of the public spotlight.

A Palestinian-Syrian originally from Yarmouk who has escaped abroad told IPS that some of her family are still in Hajar Al-Aswad, an area near Damascus with a population of roughly 600,000 prior to the conflict. She said that those trapped in the area were suffering ‘’as badly if not worse than in Yarmouk’’ and had been subjected to equally brutal starvation tactics. The area has, however, failed to garner similar attention.

The city of Homs, one of the first to rise up against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, was also kept under regime siege for three years until May of this year, when Syrian troops and foreign Hezbollah fighters took control.

With the Syria conflict well into its fourth year, the U.N. Security Council decided for the first time on July 14 to authorize cross-border aid without the Assad government’s approval via four border crossings in neighbouring states. The resolution established a monitoring mechanism for a 180-day period for loading aid convoys in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

The first supplies will include water sanitation tablets and hygiene kits, essential to preventing the water-borne diseases responsible for diarrhoea – which, in turn, produces severe states of malnutrition.

Miram Azar, from UNICEF’s Beirut office, told IPS that  ‘’prior to the Syria crisis, malnutrition was not common in Lebanon or Syria, so UNICEF and other actors have had to educate public health providers on the detection, monitoring and treatment’’ even before beginning to deal with the issue itself.

However, it was already on the rise: ‘’malnutrition was a challenge to Syria even before the conflict’’, said a UNICEF report released this year. ‘’The number of stunted children – those too short for their age and whose brain may not properly develop – rose from 23 to 29 per cent between 2009 and 2011.’’

Malnutrition experienced in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from pregnancy to two years old) results in lifelong consequences, including greater susceptibility to illness, obesity, reduced cognitive abilities and lower development potential of the nation they live in.

Azar noted that ‘’malnutrition is a concern due to the deteriorating food security faced by refugees before they left Syria’’ as well as ‘’the increase in food prices during winter.’’

The Syrian economy has been crippled by the conflict and crop production has fallen drastically. Violence has destroyed farms, razed fields and displaced farmers.

The price of basic foodstuffs has become prohibitive in many areas. On a visit to rebel-held areas in the northern Idlib province autumn of 2013, residents told IPS that the cost of staples such as rice and bread had risen by more than ten times their cost prior to the conflict, and in other areas inflation was worse.

Jihad Yazigi , an expert on the Syrian economy, argued in a European Council on Foreign Affairs (ECFR) policy brief published earlier this year that the war economy, which ‘’both feeds directly off the violence and incentivises continued fighting’’, was becoming ever more entrenched.

Meanwhile, political prisoners who have been released as a result of amnesties tell stories of severe water and food deprivation within jails. Many were detained on the basis of peaceful activities, including exercising their right to freedom of expression and providing humanitarian aid, on the basis of a counterterrorism law adopted by the government in July 2012.

There are no accurate figures available for Syria’s prison population. However, the monitoring group, Violations Documentation Centre, reports that 40,853 people detained since the start of the uprising in March 2011 remain in jail.

Maher Esber, a former political prisoner who was in one of Syria’s most notorious jails between 2006 and 2011 and is now an activist living in the Lebanese capital, told IPS that it was normal for taps to be turned on for only 10 minutes per day for drinking and hygiene purposes in the detention facilities.

Much of the country’s water supply has also been damaged or destroyed over the past years, with knock-on effects on infectious diseases and malnutrition. A major pumping station in Aleppo was damaged on May 10, leaving roughly half what was previously Syria’s most populated city without running water. Relentless regime barrel bombing has made it impossible to fix the mains, and experts have warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe for those still inside the city.

The U.N. decision earlier this month was made subsequent to refusal by the Syrian regime to comply with a February resolution demanding rapid, safe, and unhindered access, and the Syrian regime had warned that it considered non-authorised aid deliveries into rebel-held areas as an attack.

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International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 21:39:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135613 Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
FORTALEZA, Brazil, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The creation of BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) own financial institutions was “a disappointment” for activists from the five countries, meeting in this northeastern Brazilian city after the group’s leaders concluded their sixth annual summit here.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), launched Tuesday Jul. 15 at the summit in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, represent progress “from United States unilateralism to multilateralism,” said Graciela Rodriguez, of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP).

But “the opportunity for real reform was lost,” she complained to IPS at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held in this city Wednesday and Thursday Jul. 16-17 as a forum for civil society organisations in parallel to the sixth summit.

The format announced for the NDB “does not meet our needs,” she said.

The NDB will promote “a new kind of development" only if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals. -- Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry
The bank’s goal is to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the BRICS and other countries of the developing South, with an initial capital investment of 50 billion dollars, to be expanded through the acquisition of additional resources.

“We want an international system that serves the majority, not just the seven most powerful countries (the Group of Seven),” that does not depend on the dollar and that has an international arbitration tribunal for financial controversies, said Oscar Ugarteche, an economics researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“It is unacceptable that a district court judge in New York should put a country at risk,” he told IPS, referring to the June ruling of the U.S. justice system in favour of holdouts (“vulture funds”) in their dispute with Argentina, which could force another suspension of payments.

“We need international financial law,” similar to existing trade law, and an end to the dominance of the dollar in exchange transactions, which enables serious injustice against nations and persons, like embargoes on payments and income in the United States, he said.

“Existing international institutions do not work,” and the proof of this is that they have still not overcome the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, said the Mexican researcher.

Major powers like the United States and Japan have unsustainable debt and fiscal deficits, yet are not harassed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in contrast to the treatment meted out to less powerful nations, particularly in the developing South.

During the seminar, organised by REBRIP and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, oft-repeated demands were for civil society participation, transparency, environmental standards and consultation with the populations affected by projects financed by the NDB.

These demands have not yet been included in the NDB but may be discussed during its operational design over the next few years, while the group’s parliaments ratify its approval, said Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry, in a dialogue with activists.

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cosendey said that a disadvantage of the multilateral bank was the need for its regulations not to be confused with infringement of national sovereignty of member states. The political, cultural, legal and ethnic differences between the five countries could pose a major obstacle to the adoption of common criteria, he said.

The NDB can be constructive “if it integrates human rights” into its principles and presents solutions for the social impacts of the projects it finances, said Nondumiso Nsibande, of ActionAid South Africa, an NGO.

“We need roads, other infrastructure and jobs, as well as education, health and housing,” but big projects tend to harm poor communities in the places where they are carried out, she told IPS. It is still not known what levels of transparency and social concern the bank will have, she said.

In the view of Chankrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the NDB will alleviate India’s great needs for infrastructure, energy, long distance transport and ports. However, he does not expect it to make large investments in one key service for Indians: sanitation.

Having an Indian as the bank’s first president, as the five leaders have decided, will help attract more investments, but he said people’s access to water must remain a priority.

Cosenday said the NDB will promote “a new kind of development.”

But Chalapurath told IPS that this will only happen if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as human rights and other best practices.

Adopting democratic processes within the bank will facilitate dialogue with social movements, parliaments and society in general, he said.

Incorporating environmental issues and gender parity is also essential, said Ugarteche and Rodriguez, who regards this as necessary in order to make progress towards “environmental justice.”

Not only roads and ports need to be built; even more important is the “social infrastructure” that includes sanitation, water, health and education, said Rodriguez, the coordinator of the REBRIP working group on International Economic Architecture.

Mobilising resistance to large projects that affect local populations in the places they are constructed will be part of the response to the probable priority placed by the NDB on financing physical infrastructure projects, she announced.

The social organisations gathered in Fortaleza, with representatives from Brazil, India, China, South Africa and other countries that are not members of the group, are preparing to coordinate actions to influence the way the bank and its policies are designed, and to monitor its operations and the actions of the BRICS group itself.

Brazilian economist Ademar Mineiro, also of REBRIP, said there was potential for national societies to influence the format and policies of the NDB, and time for them to organise and mobilise. “It is an unprecedented opportunity,” he told IPS.

Russia did not originally support the BRICS bank, preferring private funding. But Mineiro said its position changed after the United States and the European Union involved multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank in sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea, a part of Ukraine.

BRICS evolved “from the economic to the political,” with its members demanding more power in the international system. The alliance is one of the pillars of the Chinese strategy to conquer greater influence, including in the West, said Cui Shoujun, a professor at the School of International Studies of Renmin University in China.

“The BRICS need China more than the other way round,” he told IPS, adding that the Chinese economy is 20 times larger than South Africa’s and four times larger than those of India and Russia.

As well as seeking natural resources from other countries, among the reasons why China has joined and supports BRICS is strengthening the legitimacy in power of the Communist Party through internal stability and prosperity, the academic said.

(END)

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U.N.’s New Development Goals Must Also Be Measurable for Rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-n-s-new-development-goals-must-also-be-measurable-for-rich/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:45:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135580 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Activists argue that water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal in the post-2015 framework. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations is on the verge of releasing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – perhaps 17 or more – to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will run out by the end of 2015.

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda which, among other things, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030."Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?" -- Jens Martens

Neelie Kroes of the European Commission says the new development agenda is being described as “the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations in its entire history.”

But Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS that in general, the current list of proposed goals and targets is not an adequate response to the global social, economic and environmental crises and the need for fundamental change.

The proposed SDG list, he pointed out, contains a mix of recycled old commitments and vaguely formulated new ones (such as the goal 1.a. to “ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources to provide adequate and predictable means to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.”).

According to some development experts, the world’s rich nations have mostly failed to meet their obligations on MDG target 8 which called for a “global partnership for development” between developed and developing nations.

As the Geneva-based South Centre points out, “The SDGs should not be a set of goals for only developing countries to undertake as a kind of conditionality or new obligations.”

The Rio-plus-20 outcome document, adopted at an international conference in Brazil in 2012, specifically said the new goals should be “universally applicable to all countries,” including developed countries.

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

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

The OWG is currently holding its 13th – and perhaps final – round of negotiations ending Friday, after which a report is to be submitted to the General Assembly in August.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

Until then, said one senior U.N. official, “there may be plenty of deletes and inserts.”

Martens told IPS governments should not repeat the mistake of MDG 8 on “global partnership”, which was formulated so vaguely it did not imply any binding commitments for the North.

“What we need instead are measurable goals for the rich,” said Martens, who has been monitoring the last 12 sessions of the OWG.

He said any post-2015 agenda must address the structural obstacles and political barriers that prevented the realisation of the MDGs, such as unfair trade and investment rules (including the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism) and the problems of tax evasion and tax avoidance by TNCs and wealthy individuals.

“Why not have a target to close down all tax havens by 2020?” he asked.

Among activist groups, there was widespread criticism that water and sanitation was not a “stand alone goal” in the current MDGs but only a secondary goal under Goal 7 on “environmental sustainability.”

Nadya Kassam, global head of campaigns at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS, “We believe water and sanitation must be a stand-alone goal for the post-2015 framework, and we are encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.”

She said it is unthinkable that water, sanitation and hygiene could not be included – they are critical to so many other outcomes such as good health, education and economic growth.

U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson has made the importance of sanitation clear, with his campaign to end open defecation, which WaterAid strongly supports.

After nearly 15 years on from the MDGs, the original goal on water to halve the proportion of people without has been reached globally. Yet coverage in sub-Saharan Africa remains poor, with 36 percent of the population still living without this essential service.

Kassam said access to sanitation is lagging the furthest behind, and at the current rates of progress, it would take sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, over 150 years just to reach the existing goal of halving the proportion of people without.

“So water, and in particular sanitation, need to be of central importance going forward,” she said.

Martens said it is a positive signal that the current draft list of proposed SDGs contains a goal on reducing inequality within and between countries.

“It will be of utmost importance that this goal does not get lost in the final phase of the negotiations,” he stressed.

However, it would not be sufficient to just have a single goal on inequality — each SDG should have targets and indicators on distribution and inequality, Martens said.

Meanwhile in a statement released Monday, Reporters Without Borders said there was “heated discussion and opposition from certain OWG members such as Russia, Cuba and China” on a proposed SDG covering media and information.

The protection of the right to information is in danger of being weakened or disappearing altogether, to be replaced by a vague reference to freedom of expression, the statement added.

At the Millennium Summit held in New-York in September 2000, 189 U.N. member-states adopted the Millennium Declaration based on the outcomes of several international conferences of the 1990s, including population, human rights, the environment, habitat and social development.

A year later, in August 2001, the U.N. Secretariat released the eight MDGs.

But the goals were devised not by governments through an open debate but by a working committee drawn from several U.N. bodies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (MF), the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The goals were not the object of a formal resolution of the U.N. General Assembly.

The eight MDGs included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

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South Sudanese Children Starving While Aid Falling Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-sudanese-children-starving-while-aid-falling-short/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 00:20:56 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135568 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Even as aid workers are warning that children in South Sudan are falling victim to mass malnutrition, international agencies are said to be missing their fundraising goals to avert a looming famine in the country.

On Monday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the international medical relief organisation, reported that nearly three-quarters of the more than 18,000 patients admitted to the agency’s feeding programmes in South Sudan have been children. South Sudan has experienced mounting civil violence in recent months, which humanitarian groups warn has directly impacted farmers’ ability to plant and grow crops.

A child snacks in her family's new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A child snacks in her family’s new shelter, at Protection of Civilians (POC) camp III, near UN House, in Juba. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Yet even as South Sudan’s malnutrition epidemic intensifies, seven major international aid agencies, all of which prioritise food security in South Sudanese villages, may have to shut down their projects due to severe funding gaps.

Naming South Sudan to be “the most pressing humanitarian crisis in Africa,” CARE International, a U.S.-based relief agency, has stated that the United Nations’ most recent appeal for South Sudan is less than half funded.

The U.N. says some 1.8 billion dollars is urgently needed in the country, yet CARE says that seven implementing agencies are short by some 89 million dollars.

“We will be staring into the abyss and failing to avert a famine if funds do not start arriving soon,” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said in CARE’s report.

“This is a not a crisis caused by drought or flood. It is a political crisis turned violent. The people of South Sudan can only put their lives back together once the fighting ends. In the meantime… we are asking the public to help us with our urgent humanitarian work, but mainly we are calling on governments to fund the aid effort before it is too late.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced it would provide another 22 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to facilitate “basic life support” in South Sudan. Yet the following day, three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, expressing “grave concern” over the growing conflict in South Sudan’s border region and urging “renewed diplomatic engagement” with the international community.

While solving the political problem at the root of South Sudan’s current violence is a significant priority, aid workers say the international community’s most dire concern should be for the nutritional needs of South Sudanese children.

“Many of these children have walked for days to receive medical care and food security, and these are only the ones we see,” Sandra Bulling, media coordinator for CARE International, told IPS from South Sudan. “We don’t even know about the ones hiding in the bush.”

Centrality of nutrition

The malnutrition crisis comes amidst tumultuous domestic politics in South Sudan, resulting in fighting that has raged since December. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese residents are now estimated to be displaced within the country, thereby decreasing their access to reliable food sources and requiring them to share already-limited supplies.

Dr. Jenny Bell, a medical worker and expert on South Sudan with the University of Calgary in Canada, acknowledges that “the nation’s health situation wasn’t brilliant before December,” but warns that the civil conflict has “compounded” the country’s medical issues.

South Sudan “already had the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and it had been estimated that one in five South Sudanese children die before they reach age five,” she told IPS.

“But even though there had barely been enough food before, now there really won’t be enough, as [internally displaced] farmers were unable to grow crops [due to the violence], and cannot do so now because South Sudan is well into [its] rainy season.”

Adequate nutrition needs to be South Sudan’s top priority, Bell emphasises. The three leading causes of death in the country – malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections – are much more likely for a person to contract when he or she is malnourished, she notes.

Yet she adds that despite the “amazing agricultural potential” of South Sudan, funding for this purpose has been weak.

“The United States’ monetary aid to the region is complicated because they don’t trust the South Sudanese government,” she says. “Because of this, they’ve shifted everything to humanitarian aid, and all the development efforts have been wiped out.”

In addition to monetary aid for agricultural development, Bell says health-care facilities urgently need both supplies and personnel.

CARE’s Bulling agrees that training medical personnel is of key importance in South Sudan, adding that her focus is to work with local staff but fly in as many experts as possible.

“But it is mainly money that we need, so we can procure medicines and all of the necessary nutritional requirements,” she says.

When asked what it would take for the international community to react to the need for more funding in South Sudan, Bulling cited a technique that she says has historically been effective.

“We need to have photos of children starving and dying before the world reacts to such a disaster,” she says.

“This is what has worked for Somalia … you need these pictures to talk. For South Sudan we do all these press releases and calls to action, but as long as there is no big report with photos to show how bad the situation is, there is no response.”

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From Tigers to Barbers: Tales of Sri Lanka’s Ex-Combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:56:12 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135538 Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

People are willing to wait a long time for a few minutes in the hands of Aloysius Patrickeil, a 32-year-old barber who is part-owner of a small shop close to the northern town of Kilinochchi, 320 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Old men with bushy moustaches sit on chairs alongside youngsters sporting trendy haircuts and beards in the latest styles from Tamil movies, while mothers drag their kids into the long line for the barber’s coveted chair.

“He is the best in town,” Kalliman Mariyadas, a young man waiting his turn, says confidently.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people.” -- Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat
A few years ago, Patrickeil wasn’t such a famous man, nor did he wish to be one. Till 2009 he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed separatist group that fought a 26-year-long civil war with successive Sri Lankan governments for independence for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Patrickeil, now the father of a one-and-a-half year-old infant, was part of the LTTE’s naval arm known as the Sea Tigers until a military offensive decimated the rebel group in 2009.

Today, he is wary of divulging details of his past career.

“There is no point – what happened, happened. I don’t want to go back there,” he tells IPS, while massaging the head of one of his middle-aged clients.

His main aim now is to make sure his enterprise keeps making money. “People will always want to get haircuts, so it is a good job selection,” he says with a smile.

A beloved member of the community, he loves to talk of his shop and his future plans, but not so much about his violent past and involvement in a conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives on both sides.

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tigers in May 2009, after a bloody battle in the former rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country, close to 12,000 LTTE cadres either surrendered or were apprehended by military forces, according to government data.

By June this year over 11,800 were released following rehabilitation programmes of varying length, leaving 132 in detention.

Patrickeil himself was in detention, and then underwent rehabilitation (including vocational training) until February 2013; like thousands of other former militants, he must now navigate the former war zone as a civilian.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people,” says Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat.

But after years of war, violence and no sense of what “ordinary” life means, he tells IPS, this seemingly simple task is harder than it first appears.

Of the released ex-Tigers, most are engaged in manual labour in the north, according to data provided by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Other popular areas of employment include the fishing industry, the farming sector or the government’s civil defence department.

14652000325_ab5f725cb4_zCurrently, 11 percent of rehabilitated former LTTE fighters are listed as unemployed, more than two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate.

Very few official programmes offer assistance. One government loan scheme provides individuals with up to 25,000 rupees (192 dollars), but so far only 1,773 who qualify for the programme have received the money, according to existing records.

An initiative undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offers grants of 50,000 rupees (roughly 380 dollars), but since 2013 only 523 have received the modest sum.

“We try to help the most deserving cases after careful evaluation,” M S M Kamil, head of ICRC’s Economic Security Department, tells IPS. The lack of complimentary schemes, however, means that thousands are floundering without a steady income.

Kayodaran says that sustained long-term assistance is needed to foster careful reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants, many of whom still feel stigmatised.

“They feel they need financial independence to be able to feel normal like the others, but there are other underlying issues like depression, trauma and lack of family support that remain unaddressed,” he says.

A little help goes a long way

Just a few miles west of Patrickeil’s popular salon, 37-year-old Selliah Bavanan works alone in his tire repair shop in the small town of Mallavi. Also a former Tiger, he is evasive about his role in the group.

All he confides to IPS is that “the situation at the time demanded that we make the decision to join the group.”

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now he keeps a close eye on the road that links Kilinochchi, the main financial hub in the region, with the western parts of the district.

“My primary customers are the big vehicles,” he states, adding that there are many that take the route these days, ferrying material for the large-scale development work taking place in areas that were held by the Tigers until early 2009.

When he received the ICRC grant earlier this year, Bavanan made an astute decision – he invested the money in equipment for his humble enterprise and has seen a sharp spike in customers ever since.

“I make between 1,500 and 3,000 rupees (about 11-21 dollars) daily; it is good money,” he insists, while repairing a large, punctured tire.

Patrickeil received a similar grant and invested the money in mirrors, scissors and other accessories for the shop that was owned by a friend. “I pay half my daily income to the owner,” says Patrickeil who also makes about 3,000 rupees per day in a region where the monthly cost of living is some 25,000-30,000 rupees (190-230 dollars).

Life on this small income is not easy, with many ex-combatants in the region supporting extended families. One injured former LTTE cadre that IPS spoke with was supporting a family of three, plus a younger brother and two ageing parents.

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Officials like ICRC’s Kamil say that rehabilitated former female combatants find job options even more restrictive than their male counterparts.

Psychological assistance programmes for those traumatised by years of war are just getting off the ground in the former conflict areas, but none of them are designed specifically for ex-combatants.

There is also no official data on how many former LTTE members were wounded, but government records suggest that at least 10 to 20 percent of the Northern Province’s population of some 1.1 million people are war-injured, a large number of which were combatants during the conflict.

They say their biggest challenge now is social acceptance and financial independence. While the immediate outlook is bleak, many harbour aspirations of improved circumstances in the years to come.

“First there was war, then there was peace; now we have poverty, and hopefully the next stop will be prosperity,” says Patrickeil’s customer Mariyadas, standing up for his turn with the Sea Tiger-turned-barber.

(END)

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135478 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

By Adebayo Fayoyin
JOHANNESBURG, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

An African proverb says “a child that we refuse to build today will end up selling the house that we may build tomorrow.”

The moral of this is clear. Unless we invest in our children and young people today, they might become a threat or a burden in the future.As the international community commemorates World Population Day on July 11, Africa’s growing youth population should be recognised as a ‘powerful force for change’ that requires greater investment today.

Judging by the current challenges confronting young people, the extent to which African countries are investing in the youth is unclear.

More young people

According to the Africa Regional Review for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the continent is experiencing substantial demographic shifts, which have seen about 21 million persons a year being added to the population since 1994.

Africa has the youngest population and will remain so for decades in a rapidly ageing world. By 2050 “the median age for Africa will increase to 25, while the average for the world as a whole will climb to about 38”.

The fertility rate on the continent is decreasing gradually and the new generation of young people will probably have fewer children than their parents. This demographic shift will also mean fewer elderly people and children to support than previous generations.

Undoubtedly, demography will greatly shape Africa’s position in the global markets for labour, trade and capital.

The phenomenon is what economists call a ‘demographic dividend’, which they argue is a one-time window of opportunity to create wealth and economic growth.

The future they want

But failure to invest in this demographic also comes with its own challenges.

Maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS are the two main causes of death among young women aged 15 to 24 years in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly everywhere, adolescents are inhibited from freely exercising their right to, for example, comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women's rights. Credit: UNFPA

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women’s rights. Credit: UNFPA

In many African counties, more than 40 per cent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married by age 18. Also in the countries with high child marriage rates – Niger, Mali, CAR, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon and Libya – many girls are married off by age 15.

That is why investment in Africa’s youthful population from multiple angles, and primarily from the public and private sectors, is essential for realising the demographic dividend.

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

In his message for the World Population Day commemoration, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim says “we know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges”

Africa’s largely youthful population makes up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders and their challenges can no longer be ignored. Getting the best from the increased youth bulge in Africa can only be assured when appropriate health and development plans, policies and programmes are put in place and adequately implemented.

Adebayo Fayoyin is the Regional Communications Advisor for the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office.

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El Niño Triggers Drought, Food Crisis in Nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/el-nino-triggers-drought-food-crisis-in-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-nino-triggers-drought-food-crisis-in-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/el-nino-triggers-drought-food-crisis-in-nicaragua/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:10:35 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135475 The Las Canoas lake in Tipitapa, near Managua, dries up every time Nicaragua is visited by the El Niño phenomenon, leaving local people without fish or water for their crops. Credit: Guillermo Flores/IPS

The Las Canoas lake in Tipitapa, near Managua, dries up every time Nicaragua is visited by the El Niño phenomenon, leaving local people without fish or water for their crops. Credit: Guillermo Flores/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

The spectre of famine is haunting Nicaragua. The second poorest country in Latin America, and one of the 10 most vulnerable to climate change in the world, is facing a meteorological phenomenon that threatens its food security.

Scientists at the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) say the situation is correlated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a weather cycle that periodically causes drought on the western Pacific seaboard and the centre of the country, in contrast with seasonal flooding in the north and the eastern Caribbean coast.

Crescencio Polanco, a veteran farmer in the rural municipality of Tipitapa, north of Managua, is one of thousands of victims of the climate episode. He waited in vain for the normally abundant rains in May and June to plant maize and beans.

Polanco lost his bean crop due to lack of rain, but he remains hopeful. He borrowed 400 dollars to plant again in September, to try to recoup the investment lost by the failed harvest in May.

ENSO brings drought

The warm phase of ENSO happens when surface water temperatures increase in the eastern and central equatorial areas of the Pacific Ocean, altering weather patterns worldwide.

Experts at the Humboldt Centre told IPS that in Nicaragua, the main effect is “a sharp reduction in available atmospheric humidity”, leading to “significant rainfall deficits” and an irregular, sporadic rainy season from May to October.

Over the last 27 years there have been seven El Niño episodes, and each of them has been associated with drought, they said.

If the rains fail again, it will spell economic catastrophe for him and the seven members of his family.

“In May we spent the money we got from last year’s harvest, but with this new loan we are wagering on recovering what we lost or losing it all. I don’t know what we’ll do if the rains don’t come,” he told IPS.

His predicament is shared by thousands of small producers who depend on rainfall for their crops. Some 45 kilometres south of Tipitapa, southwest of Managua, campesino (small farmer) Luis Leiva regrets the total loss of three hectares of maize and squash to the drought.

Leiva sells his produce in the capital city’s Mercado Oriental market, and uses the profits to buy seeds and food for his family. Now he has lost everything and cannot obtain financing to rent the plot of land and plant another crop.

“The last three rains have been miserable, not enough to really even wet the earth. It’s all lost and now I just have to see if I can plant in late August or September,” he told IPS with resignation.

Rainfall in May was on average 75 percent lower than normal in Nicaragua. According to INETER, there was “a record reduction in rainfall”, up to 88 percent in some central Pacific areas, the largest deficit since records began.

Based on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), INETER has warned that the drought could last until September.

The nightmare is affecting all farmers on the Pacific coast and in the centre of the country. Sinforiano Cáceres, president of the National Federation of Cooperatives, a group of 300 large farming associations, expounded the sector’s fears to the inter-institutional National Board for Risk Management.

“We have already lost the early planting (in May), and if we lose the late planting (in August and September) there will be famine in the land and a rising spiral of prices for all basic food products,” he told IPS at a forum of producers and experts seeking solutions to the crisis. There is a third crop cycle, in December, known as “apante”.

The country’s main dairy and beef producers raised their concerns directly with the government. Members of the Federation of Livestock Associations and the National Livestock Commission told the government that meat and milk production have fallen by around 30 percent, and could drop by 50 percent by September if the ENSO lasts until then, as INETER has forecast.

Moreover, the National Union of Farmers and Livestock Owners said that over a thousand head of cattle belonging to its members have perished from starvation.

It also warned that the price of meat and dairy products will rise because some livestock owners are investing in special feeds, vitamins and vaccines against diseases to prevent losing more cattle on their ranches.

The agriculture and livestock sector generates more than 60 percent of the country’s exports and earns 18 percent of its GDP, which totalled 11 billion dollars in 2013, according to the Central Bank of Nicaragua.

In the view of sociologist Cirilo Otero, head of the non-governmental Centre for Environmental Policy Initiatives, a food crisis would have a particularly severe economic impact on a country that has still not recovered from a plague of coffee rust that hit plantations in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America over the last two years.

“Thousands of small coffee farmers and thousands of families who depended on the crop have still not been able to recover their employment and income, and now El Niño is descending on them. I don’t know how the country will be able to recover,” he told IPS.

According to Otero, if ENSO continues its ravages for the rest of the rainy season, thousands of families will suffer from under-nutrition in a country where, in 2012, 20 percent of its six million people were undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Producers do not know how to mitigate the effects of climate change, nor the mechanisms for adapting to soil changes. Unless the government implements policies for adaptation to climate change, there will be a severe food crisis in 2014 and 2015,” he told IPS.

The government has set up commissions to monitor the phenomenon, as well as information meetings with farmers and livestock producers.

The authorities have also expanded a programme of free food packages for thousands of poor families, and are providing school meals for over one million children in the school system, as well as a number of small programmes for financing family agriculture.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered urgent imports in June of 20.5 million kilograms of beans and 73.5 million kilograms of white maize to supply local markets, where shortages were already being felt. The government’s intention is to lower the high prices of these products while hoping for a decent harvest in the second half of this year.

The price of red beans has doubled since May to two dollars a kilogram, in a country where over 2.5 million people subsist on less than two dollars a day, according to a 2013 survey by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge.

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Putting Population Management in Pacific Women’s Hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/putting-population-management-in-pacific-womens-hands/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:09:27 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135296 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11. ]]> Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

Populations of many Melanesian countries in the southwest Pacific Islands region are expected to double in a generation, threatening regional and national efforts to improve low economic and human development indicators.

Arnold Bani, executive director of the Vanuatu Family Health Association in the capital, Port Vila, believes that if reproductive health issues are not addressed in the next 10-15 years the result “will be a disaster for the country.”

Vanuatu, an archipelago of 82 islands located west of Fiji, has a population of 247,262 growing at 2.4 percent, compared to a global average of 1.1 percent. Similarly, the growth rate of Papua New Guinea’s population of seven million is 2.1 percent, as it is in the neighbouring Solomon Islands, home to 550,000 people.

“Mostly the extended family provides people’s basic needs and care...So if a woman makes a decision about family planning alone there will be a fight in the family.” -- Helen, a resident of Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila
As the international community prepares to mark World Population Day on Jul. 11, experts here say an important factor will be empowering women in decisions about family planning and, with a high rate of teenage pregnancies in the region, bringing about behaviour changes in the younger generation.

The task is not easy, given strong cultural and social pressures to have large families.

“Mostly the extended family provides people’s basic needs and care,” Helen (not her real name), a mother in Port Vila, where the contraceptive prevalence is 38 percent, told IPS.

“So if a woman makes a decision about family planning alone there will be a fight in the family.”

There are practical reasons for having numerous children, explained Alec Ekeroma, president of the Pacific Society for Reproductive Health in Auckland, New Zealand.

“Large families are akin to an insurance policy for family survival,” he told IPS. “More children will assist with rural subsistence livelihoods, more children means some will survive past infancy, while care for parents is seen as a duty of the children, especially in countries where there are no social services.”

But Helen said that providing for the needs of large families is a struggle in a country where the average monthly income is around 300 dollars.

The nation’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has decreased since the 1960s from seven to four, while in Papua New Guinea it is 3.8 and in the Solomon Islands 4.1, in contrast to a TFR of 2.1, which indicates a stable population.

Regional experts believe that contraceptive use, which ranges from 35 percent in Papua New Guinea to 22 percent in Kiribati, well below the global average for less developed countries of 56 percent, must be improved.

A report published by Reproductive Health journal last year claims that increasing contraceptive prevalence in Vanuatu to 65 percent by 2025 would create a sustainable population, reduce high risk births by 54 percent, adolescent births by 46 percent and the average number of unintended pregnancies by 68 percent from 76 to 12 per 1,000 women.

Greater contraceptive use and smaller families could also save women’s lives. There are an estimated 110 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in Vanuatu, increasing to 120 in Tonga, 130 in Kiribati and an estimated 733 in Papua New Guinea.

But delivering reproductive health services to predominantly widely scattered rural island populations is a challenge given the limited infrastructure, transport services and skilled health care workers in provincial areas.

Low education and the influence of traditional health healers in rural communities are also factors,Rufina Latu of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Vanuatu added. Even when family planning is available, use can be inhibited by misconceptions, such as fear of side effects or fertility decline, religious opposition and illiteracy. A survey by the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) in Vanuatu’s main Shefa province estimates literacy is as low as 27 percent.

Leias Cullwick, executive director of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, said that a major concern for women is gender inequality and the norm of husbands determining the size of families. Fear of widely prevalent gender violence also impacts women’s behaviour.

“Health services data indicate that many women prefer contraception with long-acting depo-provera injections, so that their husbands would not know,” Latu added, claiming that it is not uncommon for husbands to hold the myth that their wives are having affairs if they are using contraception.

Gender inequality is also a factor in Vanuatu’s high adolescent fertility with 66 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. Across the Pacific Islands, one quarter of girls in this age group enter motherhood.

The Vanuatu Ministry of Health confirmed there were national strategies to improve services to adolescents. An estimated one third of urban youth lack basic knowledge about reproductive health and many are reluctant to access reproductive health services, leading to high-risk behaviour.

Engaging young people is an urgent priority given the negative impacts of pregnancies on young girls’ lives, such as low educational attainment, poverty and maternal mortality. The risk of death for mothers aged below 15 years in low and middle-income countries is double that of more mature women, reports the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Efforts to increase understanding of population issues must include the whole community, Bani advocated, with chiefs and community leaders better informed about family planning to play a role in wider social acceptance.

Latu emphasised that population and reproductive health education for everyone needs to start in early childhood and “family life education should become a compulsory part of school curriculums at all levels.”

“A more enabling environment for women’s empowerment to develop can be better achieved if men and spouses are also engaged” in the task of social change, she added.

Cullwick suggested that male nurses in Vanuatu be trained in male-to-male advocacy about gender equality and family planning.

“With the high rate of illiteracy you cannot print and distribute leaflets, you need a man to talk to others, to generate a dialogue and make them understand what women go through,” she explained.

(END)

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World’s Poorest Nations Seek Presence in Post-2015 Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/worlds-poorest-nations-seek-presence-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-poorest-nations-seek-presence-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/worlds-poorest-nations-seek-presence-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 18:18:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135433 Cambodia is one of the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Cambodia is one of the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

The 48 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world’s poor, want to be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda currently under discussion.

An Open-ended Working Group (OWG), which will continue its 13th round of negotiations next week, is expected to come up with a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which reach their deadline by the end of next year."The neo-liberal policies that have failed LDCs will continue to drive the agenda." -- Demba Dembele

Ambassador Gyan Acharya, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for LDCs, Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), describes the post-2015 economic landscape as “a once-in-a generation opportunity for transformational change” for the world’s poorest nations.

However, negotiations remain tricky for LDCs in the 30-member OWG, according to diplomats involved in the negotiations.

Since LDCs constitute only six (Bhutan, Bangladesh, Benin, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania) among the 30, they find themselves totally outnumbered by the “big voices”.

Still, LDCs are apparently better prepared than in previous U.N. fora, primarily because of “back-stopping” support from the UN-Office of the High Representative (OHRLLS).

But some LDC non-governmental organisations (NGOs) question whether a post-2015 agenda will help LDCs at all.

Demba Dembele, coordinator of the Senegal-based Forum for African Alternatives, told IPS, “What is written on paper will not be what will be implemented.”

The agenda will be hijacked by the United States, the European Union (EU), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), he predicted.

“This means the neo-liberal policies that have failed LDCs will continue to drive the agenda, so as all special programmes for LDCs, since 1981, have failed,” he said. “Why should this one work?”

“I don’t share the ambassador’s optimism,” said Dembele, one of the main organisers of the 2011 World Social Forum held in Dakar, Senegal.

“What is needed is a paradigm shift away from market fundamentalism,” he declared.

Speaking at last month’s roundtable in London, which focused on LDCs and the post-2015 agenda, Ambassador Acharya painted a grim picture for LDCs.

He pointed out most of the LDCs have been buffeted by the effects of the world economic downturn and find themselves on the frontline of climate change.

Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, land degradation, desertification and shortened growing seasons have hit them hard, said Acharya, a former Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations.

This is a particularly cruel blow since agriculture provides the livelihood for 70 percent of the population of LDCs.

For Ambassador Acharya, climate change is “the elephant in the room that no one is prepared to face”.

The London meeting was hosted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a leading independent UK development think-tank.

Azeb Girmai, a civil society activist in Ethiopia, one of the LDCs in Africa, describes how climate change is affecting her country’s economy:  “We’ve had more droughts and more frequent floods, and increasingly erratic rainfall, and studies have shown that crop yields decreased by 13 percent between 1991 and 2008 because of climate change.”

She said “this is in a country where 85 percent of the population are farmers or rely on rain-fed agricultural production.”

Clare Melamed, director of the ODI’s Growth, Poverty and Inequality section, told the London meeting: “With discussions on the Open Working Group at a crucial stage, we want to make sure that a new set of goals resulting from the negotiations, works for the poorest countries.”

Dr. Arjun Karki, president of Rural Reconstruction Nepal, and international coordinator of LDC Watch, a network of LDC NGOs,
said “there should be no more excuses, or failed development paradigms based on predatory economic liberalisation in trade, finance and investment which have only led to multiple crises and a widening inequality gap.”

He said LDC Watch demands a “stand-alone goal” for LDCs so that the most vulnerable and marginalised countries are kept at centre stage.

Given the shortcomings of the MDGs, LDC governments and civil society want to ensure that SDGs have something to offer them.

There have been suggestions for specific targets within the SDGs, and a process to test how goals and targets would work for them.

This would also help direct resources towards LDCS, to level the playing field and make rapid progress possible.

“One crucial aspect of the negotiations on new goals is to agree a ‘means of implementation’, or a deal on what countries will do to help each other to achieve them,” said Melemed.

“This is particularly important for LDCs, who suffer some of the worst problems and have the least capacity to deal with them alone,” she added.

Two elements that LDCs want to see included in the SDGs are a stress on building capacity and strengthening global partnerships.

Given their young and dynamic population, the LDCs have a huge potential skills base, so they need support to take advantage of this asset and develop e-technology and set up science and technology agreements.

And to overcome the shortcomings of the MDGs, LDCs insist that the SDGs need to emphasise differential and preferential treatment, rather than seeking a set of overall goals for all to pursue.

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments for helping the LDCs work their way out of poverty is enlightened self-interest on the part of richer countries.

As Dr. Karki pointed out, “In LDCs, underdevelopment, hunger, economic weakness and insecurity create political instability, war and internal conflict, and the effects of this instability spill over into developed countries in the form of increased refugees and regional instability.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon puts it this way: (Supporting LDC development) “is not only a moral imperative, but also a means to promote a stable and peaceful global order.”

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Amid Scepticism, U.N. Trumpets Successes in Cutting Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/amid-scepticism-u-n-trumpets-successes-in-cutting-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-scepticism-u-n-trumpets-successes-in-cutting-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/amid-scepticism-u-n-trumpets-successes-in-cutting-poverty/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 19:53:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135413 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. The U.N. study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. The U.N. study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

With 17 months before the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targets by the December 2015 deadline, the United Nations is trumpeting its limited successes – but with guarded optimism.

“Global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015 time frame,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the latest status report released Monday."Unfortunately, the trend in the U.N. secretary-general's office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and 'multi-stakeholder partnerships' that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations." -- Yoke Ling Chee

In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

“This rate dropped to 22 percent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million,” the study claims.

Still, the overwhelming majority of people living in extreme poverty belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan African, according to the 56-page Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

But some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) closely tracking trends in social and economic development in the developing world are sceptical of the claims.

Roberto Bissio, director of the Uruguay-based Social Watch, told IPS the global average the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively due to China – and most of that poverty reduction in China happened before the year 2000.

“Thus the MDGs are credited with outcomes that happened before they existed,” he said.

“This is because the target is defined as lowering to half the 1990 global poverty line, not the 2000 figure as the Millennium Declaration implies by talking in present,” Bissio added.

The study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools.

“If trends continue,” says the report, “the world will surpass MDG targets on malaria, tuberculosis and access to HIV treatment (while) the hunger target looks within reach.”

Other targets, such as access to technologies, reduction of average tariffs, debt relief, and growing political participation by women, “show great progress.”

Over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children are saved every day, according to the report.

Yoke Ling Chee of the Malaysia-based Third World Network told IPS the MDG report is “over optimistic”, and avoids the systemic obstacles that continue to deprive large parts of the world from their right to development.

“A much-needed orderly sovereign debt work-out mechanism is still rejected by rich countries and we see Argentina on the verge of another crisis because of the greed of ‘vulture funds,’” she said.

Failure to deal with structural barriers can negate any success made over the past two decades.

“Unfortunately,” she pointed out, “the trend in the U.N. Secretary-General’s office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations.

“The vote on Jun. 26 at the Human Rights Council to start a process for a treaty to regulate transnational corporations is a clear signal that if we are to make development a reality, corporations cannot be the deliverer,” she added.

In a statement released Monday, the London-based WaterAid said the U.N. report is a reminder of a terrible truth: that there are still 2.5 billion people in the world without access to basic toilets.

Of the 2.5 billion, 644 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 1.0 billion in South Asia.

“Going without this right is compromising the health, safety, security and dignity of billions of people,” said Fleur Anderson, global head of campaigns at WaterAid.

As the U.N. works on a renewed set of development goals, it is critical that sanitation be made a central priority in development, activists say.

For the first time in history, bringing safe water and basic sanitation to everyone, everywhere within a generation “is in our grasp”, Anderson stressed. “But it will require political will and dedication to get there. Without these basic building blocks, there is no effective way to address extreme poverty,” she added.

Bissio told IPS that by concentrating attention on extreme poverty, developed countries got off the hook and do not feel they have to report on their own commitments at home.

Poverty in developed countries is ignored and inequalities are ignored everywhere, resulting in this being the major constraint now to economic growth (apart from all other considerations) as recognised even by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he noted.

The study also points out that after two years of declines, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 134.8 billion dollars in 2013.

“However, aid shifted away from the poorest countries where attainment of the MDGs often lags the most,” it said.

Eighty per cent of imports from developing countries entered developed countries duty-free, and tariffs remained at an all-time low.

The debt burden of developing countries remained stable at about 3.0 per cent of export revenue, which was a near 75 per cent drop since 2000, according to the report.

Despite considerable advancements in recent years, the report says reliable statistics for monitoring development remain inadequate in many countries, but better statistical reporting on the MDGs has led to real results.

Chee told IPS the explosion of transnational corporations (TNCs) suing national governments in developing countries over environmental and health regulations by invoking corporate rights under bilateral investment agreements is sucking billions of dollars from those countries, she added.

She also pointed out that developing countries that made some progress and continue to face huge challenges are increasingly excluded from the commitments of developed countries to provide climate finance, ensure access to affordable life saving medicines and transfer technologies for sustainable development.

This is because countries such as China and India are regarded as “competitors” by the U.S.

European corporations assert undue influence over their home governments’ development cooperation policies, which in turn undermines the key U.N. treaties on climate change and biodiversity, she said.

The ongoing negotiations at the U.N. on sustainable development goals are mired in debate because developed countries refuse to put the systemic economic issues at the centre of the next development partnership – which should be primarily about inter-state responsibilities and commitments, not unaccountable “partnerships,” Chee declared.

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Single Mothers Battle on in Former War Zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/single-mothers-battle-on-in-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=single-mothers-battle-on-in-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/single-mothers-battle-on-in-former-war-zone/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 06:27:58 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135265 Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three, including a disabled child, raises goats to provide for her family. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three, including a disabled child, raises goats to provide for her family. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VALIPUNAM, Sri Lanka, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

The village of Valipunam, 322 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, occupies one of the remotest corners of the country’s former war zone. The dirt roads are impossible to navigate, there are no street lights, telephone connections are patchy and the nearest police post is miles away, closer to the centre of the battle-scarred Mullaitivu district.

Here, even able-bodied men fear being alone in their homes. But 35-year-old Sumathi Rajan knows that if she leaves her small shop unattended at night, there is a good chance there’ll be nothing left in it the next morning.

Determined to preserve her sole income source, she sleeps on the shop floor every night, along with her 12-year-old son, despite the very real threats of theft, and even rape.

“I know what I have to do, I know how take care of my son, and myself,” the feisty woman, a single mother, tells IPS, standing in front of her humble establishment.

Rajan’s life has been one of upheaval and turmoil in the last five years.

“I think what these [women] have gone through in the past three decades - as individuals, as families, and as an entire community - has made them resilient." -- M S M Kamil, head of the economic security department at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
In early 2009, when Sri Lanka’s three-decade-old civil conflict showed signs of reaching a bloody finale, Rajan and her family – living deep inside the area controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – prepared to face a drawn-out period of violent uncertainty.

By April of that year Rajan and her son, only seven years old at the time, were among tens of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in a narrow swath of land in between the Indian Ocean and the Nandikadal Lagoon on the island’s north-east coast as the Tigers fought a final bloody battle against government forces.

The two escaped the fighting alive but with no possessions except the clothes they were wearing. For the next two-and-a-half years, ‘home’ was a massive displacement camp known as Menik Farm in the northern Vavuniya district.

When the family finally returned to Valipunam in late 2011, Rajan was faced with the seemingly impossible task of building her life from scratch.

She was no stranger to the hard decisions that accompany the life of a single mother. Even before the war forced them to flee Rajan had to toughen up, since her occupation as a moneylender meant she had to be firm with her clients about repayment and interest rates.

She continues the business today, facing many of the same challenges as she did three years ago. “When people don’t return the money on the due date, I will go to their homes to collect it,” she asserted.

Her shop received a boost earlier this year when she was chosen as the recipient of a one-off 50,000-rupee (380-dollar) grant from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“It helped me to expand the shop,” Rajan said, looking proudly around at the shelves that carry everything from dhal to single-use packages of shampoo. But new supplies mean fresh fears of theft and little peace for Rajan, who deposits her meagre monthly savings of some 25 dollars in her son’s account for safe keeping.

Stories like Rajan’s are not rare in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged Northern Province, where between 40,000 and 55,000 female-headed households struggle to eke out a living, according to aid and development agencies in the region.

An assessment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 2013 found that 40 percent of all women out of some 467,000 returnees who were displaced during the last stages of the war still felt unsafe in their own homes, while 25 percent felt similarly vulnerable venturing outside their villages by themselves.

The situation is worse for families headed by single mothers.

“From field assessments, there is a clear indication that children of the estimated 40,000 female-headed households are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse,” stated a protection update by the Durable Solutions Promotion Group, a voluntary coalition of international organisations and agencies, back in March.

Despite such odds, women who run their own households are some of the most resilient in the former conflict zone, according to humanitarian workers in the region.

“These women have a lot of fortitude,” M S M Kamil, head of the economic security department at ICRC, told IPS.

“I think what they have gone through in the past three decades – as individuals, as families, and as an entire community – has made them resilient. They feel that they can survive [and] take care of their families whatever the circumstances are,” he added.

Subashini Mellampasi, a 34-year-old single mother of three children aged between five and 14 years, is living proof of the truth behind Kamil’s statement.

Her eldest boy is disabled, and cannot hear or speak. To make matters worse, her husband left her and the three children after they returned to their village following the war’s end.

In early 2014, the ICRC gave her the funds to start up a small business. Mellampasi chose to raise goats and purchased a small herd of about 10 animals. Six months on she has a herd of 40.

She has sold ten animals at roughly 100,000 rupees (about 700 dollars) and is using the money to construct a small house. Each beast fetches anything from 10,000-20,000 rupees (75 to 150 dollars).

The remaining animals must meanwhile be cared for, and their milk collected each morning for the family’s consumption.

“It is a hard life, but I think I can manage,” Mellampasi told IPS.

Because the sale of male goats does not provide a steady income, she has found employment as a cleaner in the nearby village school, for a daily pay of about 600 rupees (roughly 4.50 dollars).

She says she needs at least 10,000 rupees (about 80 dollars) a month in order to survive, but other families say they need at least twice that amount, especially those who use transport regularly.

Many cut corners by having neighbours look after their children while they are at work, or pawning their jewelry in order to purchase schoolbooks and uniforms for their kids.

While women like Mellampasi scratch out a barebones existence, thousands of others have fallen through the cracks altogether, according to Saroja Sivachandran, head of the Centre for Women and Development in Jaffna, capital of the Northern Province.

“There are thousands of women who are not receiving any kind of assistance,” she told IPS. “There are limited on-going programmes that target this extremely vulnerable group. What we need is a large programme encompassing the full province and all the single female-headed families,” she added.

But financial aid to the country has been dwindling steadily since the war’s end. Three successive joint appeals for aid in the region have reported a shortfall of 430 million dollars.

With the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also winding down its work in Sri Lanka, a substantial programme for single mothers remains, for now, only a promise on paper.

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For the Caribbean, a United Front Is Key to Weathering Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-the-caribbean-a-united-front-is-key-to-weathering-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-the-caribbean-a-united-front-is-key-to-weathering-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-the-caribbean-a-united-front-is-key-to-weathering-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:09:24 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135338 A seawall in Dominica. A recent report has called for specific measures to protect small islands from sea level rise. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A seawall in Dominica. A recent report has called for specific measures to protect small islands from sea level rise. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

As the costs of climate change continue to mount, officials with the Commonwealth grouping say it is vital that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) stick together on issues such as per capita income classification.

Deputy Commonwealth Secretary General (Economic and Social Development) Deodat Maharaj told IPS the classification affects the ability of countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others to access financing from the international financial institutions.

“To my mind, the international system has to take special consideration of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and others,” he said.

“The example I like to use is the example of Grenada. You would recall Hurricane Ivan about 10 years ago. It damaged about 70 percent of the housing stock in Grenada. It cost a billion U.S. dollars in damages, equivalent to two years GDP.

“So the countries in the Caribbean can move from high income or middle income to almost zero income with an economic shock or natural disaster,” Maharaj added.

Maharaj, whose appointment took effect earlier this year, said the Commonwealth is preparing “an analytical framework based on research, a case, so that countries such as Grenada when there is a natural disaster their international debt obligation for a particular period of time will be suspended so that they don’t have to continue to pay their debt when it is that they have suffered a natural disaster.”

On the issue of collaboration, one of only three female prime ministers in the Caribbean has reaffirmed her country’s commitment to dealing with climate change and all the issues associated with the global phenomena.

“I would like to reaffirm my strong belief in collaboration with other nations,” Sarah Wescot-Williams, the prime minister of St. Maarten, told IPS.

“Economic issues have forced us to look at ways and means of getting together and we are working collaboratively with other Caribbean nations to mitigate the effects of climate change as well as social issues of unemployment, crime and health.”

Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot-Williams (left) and Chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Beverly Nicholson-Doty. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot-Williams (left) and Chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Beverly Nicholson-Doty. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Maarten recently developed and approved its National Energy Policy “and as such we have very specific goals and objectives to reach by 2020 in terms of reduction and promoting alternative, new green ideas, new green products,” Wescot-Williams explained.

She reiterated a point made while addressing regional leaders recently. “I told them we should not only look out for the bigger impacts of climate change or look at those developments as something that is far from us, far from our homes, but look at small things like beach erosion, something that St. Maarten is seeing.

“A report has been issued not very long ago indicating that unless specific measures are taken, a great part of what is now land will no longer be as far as the smaller islands, including St. Maarten, are concerned.”

How they are ranked by financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank is a major issue for Caribbean countries.

Camillo Gonsalves, a former ambassador to the United Nations, says it affects these countries’ ability to secure the required funding to effectively deal with climate change.

He noted that most Caribbean countries are ranked as middle-income countries, and using that metric alone makes his country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with its one-billion-dollar Gross Domestic Product (GDP), “richer than China”.

“If that is the metric by which we determine economic health and access to concessionary financing, and our ability to borrow ourselves out of a crisis or to spend ourselves out of a crisis, it is clearly a flawed measure,” he said.

He noted that within three hours last Christmas Eve, a trough system left damage and loss in St. Vincent equal to 17 percent of GDP, while the country also suffered natural disasters in 2010, and 2011 – the loss and damage from each of which was in double digits.

This, however, is the measure by which the World Bank, the IMF determine the economic strength of Caribbean countries, Gonsalves said, adding that these international institutions do not consider the region’s vulnerabilities.

“The Caribbean small island developing states are among the most heavily indebted states in the world,” Gonsalves said, noting that the debt-to-GDP ratio in the region ranges from 20 percent in Haiti – which received significant debt forgiveness after the 2010 earthquake – to 139 percent in Jamaica, with St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada at 105 and 115 per cent, respectively, even as the European Union has set itself a debt-to-GDP ratio of 65 per cent.

“If your debt-to-GDP ratio is 139 percent and you are struck by a natural disaster… how do you borrow yourself out of that crisis? Where do you find money immediately to build your roads, your houses, your bridges, your hospitals that have been damaged? How can you set money aside in preparation for the next climate event if you have a debt to GDP ratio of over 100 per cent or approaching 100 per cent, and your debt servicing charges are that high?” Gonsalves said.

Agreeing with Wescot-Williams and Maharaj that there is strength in unity, Gonsalves, who serves as foreign affairs minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said the upcoming Third United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa is an ideal opportunity for regional countries to do more than just talk about collaboration.

“The issue of how we are ranked and classified has to be rectified – not addressed, not flagged, not considered. It has to be rectified in Samoa. That has to be one of our prime objectives going into this conference,” he said.

The Samoa conference will be held from Sep. 1-4 under the theme “The Sustainable Development of Small Island States Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships”.

It will seek to assess progress and remaining gaps; renew political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Maharaj said “one big challenge” for his organisation is the advancement of the interest of small states.

“When I think about the Caribbean and I think about development…we need to think about development not only in terms of five years, 10 years or 15 years,” he said.

“I would like to think about and imagine what will the Caribbean be in the year 2050 at the time when our grand- and great-grandchildren will be around and many of us won’t be here,” Maharaj added.

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Here Are the Real Victims of Pakistan’s War on the Taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/here-are-the-real-victims-of-pakistans-war-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=here-are-the-real-victims-of-pakistans-war-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/here-are-the-real-victims-of-pakistans-war-on-the-taliban/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 14:44:54 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135312 An elderly displaced man carries a sack of rations on his shoulder. The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs of 110 kg each. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

An elderly displaced man carries a sack of rations on his shoulder. The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs of 110 kg each. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

Three days ago, Rameela Bibi was the mother of a month-old baby boy. He died in her arms on Jun. 28, of a chest infection that he contracted when the family fled their home in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, where a full-scale military offensive against the Taliban has forced nearly half a million people to flee.

Weeping uncontrollable, Bibi struggles to recount her story.

“My son was born on Jul. 2 in our own home,” the 39-year-old woman tells IPS. “He was healthy and beautiful. If we hadn’t been displaced, he would still be alive today.”

“My wife is expected to deliver a baby within a fortnight, But the doctors say the child will be premature due to the stressful journey we undertook to get here." -- Jalal Akbar, a former resident of the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan Agency
But Bibi does not have the luxury of grieving long for her little boy.

Soon she will have to dry her eyes and begin the grim task of providing for herself and her two young daughters, who now comprise some of the 468,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) seeking refuge from the Pakistan army’s airstrikes on the militant-infested mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Launched on Jun. 15, the army’s campaign was partly motivated by terrorist attacks on the Karachi International Airport that killed 18 people in early June.

Having failed since 2005 to flush out the militants from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the army is now focusing all its firepower on the 11,585-square-kilometre North Waziristan Agency, where insurgent groups have enjoyed a veritable free reign since escaping the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan over a decade ago.

Some political pundits are cheering what they call the government’s “hard line” on the terrorists. But what it means for a civilian population already weary from years of war is homeless, hunger and sickness.

Most of the displaced have collapsed, fatigued from hours of travel on dirt roads in 45-degree heat, in massive camps in Bannu, an ancient city in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) province.

Already groaning under the weight of nearly a million refugees who have arrived in successive waves over the last nine years, KP is completely unprepared to deal with this latest influx of desperate families.

With tents serving as makeshift shelters, and the blistering summer heat threatening to worsen over the coming weeks, medical professionals here are warning of a full-blown health crisis, as doctors struggle to cope with a long line of patients.

Many traveled for hours on dirt roads, in 45-degree heat, to reach safe ground, with no food or water along the way. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Many traveled for hours on dirt roads, in 45-degree heat, to reach safe ground, with no food or water along the way. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Muslim Shah, a former resident of North Waziristan, has just arrived in Bannu after a 45-km journey on an unpaved road with his wife and children.

He is being treated at a rudimentary ‘clinic’ in the camp for severe dehydration, and recovering from a stomach flu caused by consumption of contaminated water along the way.

The frail-looking man tells IPS he is concerned for his family’s health in an unsanitary environment, gesturing to a nearby filthy canal where his children are bathing amongst a herd of buffalos.

“We have examined about 28,000 displaced people,” Dr. Sabz Ali, deputy medical superintendent at the district headquarters hospital (DHQ) of Bannu, told IPS.

About 25,000 of these, he said, are suffering from preventable diseases caused by sun exposure, lack of nutrition, and consumption of unclean water.

On Jun. 29, the government relaxed its curfew, giving families a tiny window of escape before resuming its operation Monday.

Families who left in the allotted timeframe are expected to descend on Bannu soon, prompting an urgent need for preemptive and coordinated efforts to avert an outbreak of diseases, Ali asserted.

“Given the soaring temperatures, we fear outbreaks of communicable water and vector-borne diseases, like gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, as well as vaccine-preventable childhood diseases such as polio and measles,” he said.

Seeking some relief from the 41-degree heat, displaced children in Bannu join a herd of buffalos for a bath in a filthy canal. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Seeking some relief from the 41-degree heat, displaced children in Bannu join a herd of buffalos for a bath in a filthy canal. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Ahmed Noor Mahsud (59) and his family of four epitomise the unfolding crisis.

Mahsud himself is bed-ridden as a result of a heat stroke caused by walking 40 km in sweltering heat, while his sons – aged 14, 15 and 20 – have been suffering with diarhhoea, fever and headaches since they arrived in the camp on Jun. 22.

The family has had very little access to clean water for nearly a week, which is exacerbating their illness.

According to public health specialists like Ajmal Shah, who was dispatched by the KP health department, exhaustion among IDPs has even led to some cases of cardiac arrest.

Out in the desert, families are also at risk of snake and scorpion bites, and could suffer long-term psychological stress as a result of the trauma, Shah told IPS.

About 90 percent of the displaced are extremely poor, having lived well below the poverty line for over a decade due to the eroding impacts of terrorism on the local economy. Few can afford private care and must wait patiently for thinly-spread doctors to make their rounds.

 

But for people like 30-year-old Jalal Akbar, a former resident of the town of Mir Ali in Waziristan, patience is almost impossible.

“My wife is expected to deliver a baby within a fortnight,” he told IPS anxiously. “But the doctors say the child will be premature due to the stressful journey we undertook to get here. She requires bed rest, but we have been unable to find a proper home.”

The exhausted man fears their eviction will deprive him of his first child.

Another major crisis looming on the horizon is a food shortage, which will only add to the woes of the displaced.

According to a Jun. 30 assessment report by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “The Pakistan Army has distributed 30,000 ration packs each of 110 kg. The WFP has provided food rations to over 8,000 families while a number of NGOs and charity organisations are also carrying out relief activities.”

Still, those like Ikram Mahsud, a displaced tribal elder, fear that the worst is yet to come.

“We lack good food, and the non-availability of sanitation facilities like latrines, detergent and soap [means] our people are destined to suffer in the coming days,” he told IPS, adding that requests for clean water and sanitation facilities have fallen on deaf ears.

Women and children currently comprise 74 percent of the IDPs, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to point out, in a Jun. 30 report, the urgent need for “mass awareness campaigns among women to promote use of safe drinking water, hygienic food preparation and storage.

“Information regarding benefits of hand-washing before eating and preparation of food, use of impregnated bed nets to avoid mosquitoes’ bites and prevent occurrence of malaria should also be encouraged,” the agency noted.

WHO says it had sent medicines for 90,000 people to Bannu, but experts here feel this will fall short in the face of a spiraling crisis.

(END)

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Looking to Africa’s LDCs to Learn How to Save the Lives of Millions of Mothers and their Babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/looking-to-africas-ldcs-to-learn-how-to-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-mothers-and-their-babies/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 20:27:42 +0000 Nqabomzi Bikitsha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135289 Bosena, 25, sits on the side of a busy road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, with a baby in her arms. Ethiopia is among the countries listed as having made significant progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Credit: Jacey Fortin/IPS

Bosena, 25, sits on the side of a busy road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, with a baby in her arms. Ethiopia is among the countries listed as having made significant progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates. Credit: Jacey Fortin/IPS

By Nqabomzi Bikitsha
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

Every year, three million newborn babies and almost 6.6 million children under five die globally, but if the rest of the world looked towards the examples of two of Africa’s least-developed countries (LDCs), Rwanda and Ethiopia, they would perhaps be able to save these children.

At the 2014 Partners’ Forum being held in Johannesburg, South Africa from Jun. 30 to Jul. 2 – hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), the South African government and other partners - significant commitments in finance, service delivery and policy were announced that could put an end to these deaths. In total, there were 40 commitments from stakeholders, governments and the private sector who are committed to ending child and maternal mortality were revealed at the forum today.

It was noted that while remarkable progress has been made in reducing maternal and child mortality rates globally, over the last two decades the reduction in the rates of newborn deaths has lagged behind considerably.

Africa’s Fast-Track Countries That Have Made Significant Progress in Saving Women and Children

ETHIOPIA
•Reduced under-five mortality by 47 percent between 2000 and 2011 to from 166 to 88 per 1,000 live births
•Although Ethiopia still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Africa it has reduced by 22 percent from 871 in 2000 to 676 per 100,000 live births in 2011
•Expanded community-based primary care for women and children through the deployment of close to 40,000 Health Extension Workers
•Achieved near parity in school attendance by 2008/09: at 90.7 percent for girls and 96.7 percent for boys from 20.4 percent and 31.7 percent respectively in 1994/1995

RWANDA
•Achieved under-five mortality reduction of 50 percent between 1992 and 2010 from 151 to 76 per 1,000 live births
•Reduced maternal mortality by 22 percent from 611 to 476 per 100,000 births between 1992 and 2010 (and by 55 percent from 2000 to 2010 from an increase to 1,071 to 476 per 100,000 live births)
•Increased coverage of skilled birth attendance from 31 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2010
•In 2013, women constituted 64 percent of parliamentarians, the highest percent in the world
*Sources for all statistics are official national data, and international data, as agreed at country multistakeholder policy reviews.

However, Rwanda and Ethiopia were among 10 countries across the globe listed as having made significant  progress in reducing child and maternal mortality rates, according to a new global action plan launched at the forum.

The Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) provides evidence on the effective interventions needed to end preventable stillbirths and newborn deaths. It also outlines a strategy to prevent 2,9 million newborn deaths and 2,6 million stillbirths annually.

These countries invested in high-impact health interventions, including immunisation, family planning, education and good governance.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, told IPS that multi-sectoral investments, and not just direct investments in the health sector, would help reduce maternal and child mortality.

“If we don’t invest in agriculture, water and sanitation as well as the health sector then any gains we make in reducing child and maternal mortality will be futile.

“Community-based health care workers helped reduced Ethiopia’s mortality rates for mothers and children.”

According to the ENAP, newborn deaths account for 44 percent of all under five deaths worldwide, and investments in quality care at birth could save the lives of three million women and children each year.

“Now is the time to focus on action and implementation, to ensure more lives are saved,” said Graça Machel, co-chair of the PMNCH.

“Other countries have made progress and others have not, we need to learn from them, so we keep momentum.”

Accompanying the launch of the ENAP, was the launch of Countdown to 2015 report titled “Fulfilling the Health Agenda for Women and Children”, which serves as a scorecard of gains made in maternal and child health.

According to the report, which studied the progress of 75 countries in child and maternal mortality efforts, substantial inequities still persist.

“The theme of the Countdown report is ‘unfinished business,’” said Machel. “Too many women and children are dying when simple  treatment exists.”

Over 71 percent of newborn deaths could be avoided without intensive care, and are usually a result of three preventable conditions; prematurity, birth complications and severe infections.

Dr. Mariame Sylla, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) regional health specialist, told IPS that countries needed to learn from one another.

“Community-based approaches, where governments bring health services to the people and people to the services, have shown to be effective,” she told IPS.

“Monitoring of results is also very important to ensure accountability in the health sector.”

Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Minister of Health, said “having professional midwives would also help new mothers understand motherhood better and help reduce mortality rates among women and children.”

However,  Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs pointed out that “these  efforts are are simple but often hard to deliver.”

“Least-developed countries like Ethiopia were able to make strides in curbing child and maternal mortality through their political will,” Dr. Janet Kayita, health specialist for maternal, newborn and child health for UNICEF, told IPS.

But she pointed out that “Ethiopia’s key to success, was not just about the leadership making the decision to reduce child and maternal mortality rates, but also organising at community level.”

“Ethiopia is one of the few LDC’s to institutionalise quality improvement in the health sector, using the mechanism of rewarding good quality health services and holding accountable those not performing.”

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