Inter Press Service » Education Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 06 Oct 2015 08:12:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opinion: Renewed Optimism or Higgledy-Piggledy Vision? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:05:51 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha
Philadelphia and Boston, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the whopping 169 targets were adopted in the largest ever United Nations Summit, attended by Prime Ministers, Presidents and the Pope, among other luminaries, in New York. These goals encompass world peace, the environment, gender equality, elimination of poverty and hunger and much, much more.

So far, they have evoked mixed reactions ranging from complete dismissal to grudging acceptance and overwhelming euphoria. Much of the scepticism is rooted in the ambitiousness of the SDGs relative to highly varying and, in most cases, limited capacities of developing countries to accomplish them. A comment in The Economist (19 September, 2015) derides them as “higgledy-piggledy, “bloated” and “unwieldy” but acknowledges a shift in development thinking.

While we commend the vision of SDGs for their comprehensiveness, emphasis on their inter-relatedness and inclusiveness, we have drawn upon recent evidence to develop the following key strategic elements in the spirit of enriching the policy debates.

A profound and lasting contribution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that they enhanced awareness of the multiple deprivations that afflicted large majorities of the people in many developing countries and policy challenges that confronted the governments, multilaterals and donors.

The SDGs have not just expanded their vision but also enriched it by focusing on sustainability. As Amartya Sen emphasised in the context of universal health care, it is not so much lack of affordability but a failure to recognise the capacity of poor countries (such as Rwanda), and states (such as Kerala in India) to mobilise and utilise resources effectively.

As global poverty fell, so did the gap between rural and urban poverty. Still, more than three-fourths of the extremely poor live in rural areas. It is clear, then, that global poverty remains a rural problem.

Overemphatic endorsement in recent studies of urbanisation as the main strategy for sustainable development neglects agriculture and the rural non-farm economy (RNFE) as key drivers of growth and reduction of inequality and poverty, as a vast majority of rural people still depend on them for their livelihoods.

Structural changes have occurred in both agriculture and the RNFE. Some features of changes in agriculture include its commercialisation, the emergence of high value food chains associated with demographic changes, urbanisation and growing affluence, and growth of agricultural exports.

Some have questioned the importance assigned to smallholder agriculture as a pathway out of poverty. Specifically, they contest the argument of the World Development Report 2008 that stimulating agricultural growth is “vital for stimulating growth in other parts of the economy,” and that smallholders are at the core of this strategy.

Pervasiveness of smallholder participation in high value food chains in different regions – especially in vegetables and fruits, milk and dairy products, and meat – is much higher than generally expected.

But there are barriers, too: lack of access to technology, credit markets, economies of scale in marketing, and ways of meeting stringent food quality standards. Contract farming is an option. Producers’ associations also contribute to overcoming some of these constraints. Central to this is inculcation of entrepreneurial skills among smallholders – especially young men and women – making sure that land, labour, credit and output markets function more efficiently.

While a majority of recent studies are emphatic about low labour productivity in agriculture impeding sustainable agricultural development, it is seldom acknowledged that these are manifestations of “underinvestment” in agriculture and market imperfections (e.g. dominance of local money lenders charging exorbitant interest rates, limited land rental markets, the sharp wedge between farm gate and wholesale prices for smallholders). Size neutrality of new agricultural technology implies an important role for extension services.

As part of the diversification of the rural economy, the RNFE has assumed greater importance in that it comprises a diverse set of activities ranging from pottery to trading and manufacturing with varied returns. Available evidence points to a large “overlap” between smallholders and those engaged in the RNFE using time disposition data. There is also some evidence that more than a small share of those classified as engaged in the RNFE live in rural areas but work in urban areas, raising questions about a sharp rural-urban dichotomy.

Other issues that deserve greater attention include labour tightening and higher wage rates, reduction of vulnerability of agriculture to weather shocks, volatility of prices, and forging of closer linkages with small and secondary towns. Central to expansion of the RNFE is how to make it more attractive for not just those who are engaged in both agriculture and the RNFE but also others who may move out of agriculture in pursuit of more rewarding opportunities elsewhere. Inculcation of managerial skills, more efficient credit and output markets, and improvements in rural infrastructure to enable easier access to output markets could stem the rural-urban migration tide and thereby the rapid growth of slums.

For poverty reduction, some forms of inequality matter more than others. Important ones include inequality in the distribution of assets, especially land, human capital, financial capital and access to public assets such as rural infrastructure. Broadly, a pro-poor agenda should include measures to moderate current income inequality while facilitating access to income-generating assets and the promotion of employment opportunities for the poor.

Much of the cross-country evidence relates to the benefits of financial depth rather than to broad financial inclusion. The Global Financial Development Report 2014 (World Bank, 2014) makes an emphatic case for the latter on the grounds it reflects a growing realization of its potentially transformative power to accelerate development gains through greater access to resources for investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks. Indeed, greater diversification of clientele through financial inclusion is likely to lead to a more resilient and more stable economy.

As more and more economies upgrade to middle-income and institutional quality improves, private capital inflows will become increasingly important. A stable macro-economic environment and incentives for public-private partnerships would promote growth and poverty reduction. Greater transparency of contracts and better enforcement are imperative. Not just national but local institutions matter a great deal in a sustainable rural transformation and poverty reduction.

Institutional responses to risks need to be strengthened by promoting community level institutions; widening and deepening of the reach of financial institutions; and providing social protection to the most vulnerable. When designed well and targeted effectively, these institutions and programmes help poor households build resilience against risks and severe hardships.

Local organizations (e.g water users’ associations, producers’ groups, women’s groups) not only help in equitable use of scarce natural resources in a community but also in facilitating access to credit and other markets.

Indeed, contrary to the deep pessimism, the SDGs reflect a renewed commitment to and optimism about bettering the “nasty, short and brutish lives” of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable in the near future.

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

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Opinion: Food Loss & Waste Has Got to Do a Lot with Sustainable Development Thu, 24 Sep 2015 12:01:08 +0000 Brian Lipinski By Brian Lipinski
WASHINGTON DC , Sep 24 2015 (IPS)

More than 150 world leaders will meet in New York this weekend to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of global targets intended to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and curb climate change. The SDGs will help set the global development agenda for the next 15 years, focusing attention on the opportunities that will allow for more a sustainable future.

One such priority included is reducing global food waste. Specifically, SDG Target 12.3 will call for the world to cut per capita food waste in half by 2030. If met, this ambitious target will not only boost food security, but also improve livelihoods, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save land and water. In short, curbing food waste is both a goal in itself and a means of achieving other SDGs.

Globally, food worth USD750 billion is lost or wasted each year throughout the entire supply chain. Reducing food loss and waste could help to recover these economic losses and reduce financial burdens on the world’s most vulnerable people.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s poorest and most food-insecure regions, the World Bank estimates that just a 1 percent reduction in post-harvest losses could lead to economic gains of USD40 million each year. And out of that USD40 million, most of the benefits would go directly to the smallholder farmers growing the food.

From an environmental perspective, food loss and waste are an extremely inefficient use of resources. According to a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food loss and waste accounts for about 3.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. To put that in perspective, if food loss and waste were its own country it would be the world’s third-largest emitter, only exceeded by China and the United States.
Large amounts of water and fertilizer also go into the production of this food that never reaches human mouths. This is a big environmental cost to pay for food from which humans derive little to no use.

And from a food security perspective, reducing food loss and waste is a major opportunity to close the calorie gap between where the world is now and where it needs to be to sustainably feed the planet.

The world currently faces a roughly 70 percent gap between the crop calories produced today and those that will be needed to feed a projected population of more than 9.5 billion people in 2050. Recovering some of this lost and wasted food can help close that gap while strengthening livelihoods and improving food security – without requiring any additional environmental costs.
How to Cut Food Loss and Waste

The good news is that food loss and waste – a chronically overlooked issue – is starting to get the attention it deserves, both from the public and private sectors. Just last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an ambitious goal in line with the SDGs to reduce food waste in the United States by 50 percent by 2030.

In just five years, the UK cut food waste by 21 percent, and Denmark achieved an impressive 25 percent reduction over the same time span. On the business side, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which represents more than 400 companies across 70 countries, recently adopted a resolution to reduce food waste among member facilities by half by 2025.

Here at WRI, we are working to reduce food loss and waste through the Food Loss & Waste (FLW) Protocol, along with our partners at the CGF, FAO, FUSIONS, UNEP, WBCSD, and WRAP. Working off the principle that “what gets measured gets managed,” the FLW Protocol is a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a global accounting and reporting standard for quantifying food loss and waste.

The Protocol’s forthcoming FLW Standard will allow companies and countries to quantify their own food loss and waste in a credible and consistent manner, identifying where and how much food is being lost and wasted. Companies and countries can then use that information to identify appropriate strategies for making reductions. This will lead to economic benefits, increased food security and reduced environmental impacts.

The FLW Standard will be available early next year, just in time to help companies and countries set baselines and start measuring progress against the SDG Target 12.3. This standard, along with loss and waste-reduction efforts from farm to fork, can help shift the world toward a less wasteful, more sustainable food future.

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

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Latin America to Adopt SDGs, Still Lagging on Some MDGs Wed, 23 Sep 2015 23:23:41 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

In the last 15 years, Latin America and the Caribbean have met several key targets included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as reducing extreme poverty, hunger and child mortality, incorporating more girls in the educational system, and expanding access to clean water.

However, as the world is setting out on a new challenge, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the roadmap from here to 2030 – the region must make a bigger effort to fight, for example, maternal mortality and teen pregnancy, two of its biggest failures with regard to the MDGs, partly due to a patriarchal, sexist culture.

“We don’t have to wait for an analysis of the MDGs to understand that the region is lagging in these areas,” Chilean Dr. Ramiro Molina, founder of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Adolescent Development, told IPS.

“The spending needed on sexual and reproductive health is low,” he added. “It hasn’t been clearly understood that it is absolutely indispensable to invest more in this area.”

The eight MDGs, approved in September 2000 by 189 heads of state and government at a United Nations summit, were aimed at addressing development deficits in the first 15 years of the new millennium.

And on Sunday Sept. 27, at another summit in New York, leaders from around the world will approve the post-2015 sustainable development framework, which includes 17 SDGs that make up what is now called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With these new goals, the international community will continue to fight inequality and work towards sustainable and inclusive development.

“Latin America and the Caribbean: looking ahead after the Millennium Development Goals”, a regional monitoring report published this month by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), says the region has met the goal for reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

Between 1990 and 2015, this region more than cut in half the proportion of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day: from 12.6 percent in 1990 to 4.6 percent in 2011.

The proportion of hungry people, meanwhile, was slashed from 14.7 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 5.5 percent in 2014-2016.

In addition, employment statistics are better today than at any other point in the last 20 years; access to and completion of primary education have increased; and the illiteracy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds fell from 6.9 percent in 1990 to 1.7 percent in 2015.

The region has also made significant progress in girls’ access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, and has narrowed the gender gap in politics.

But these advances stand in contrast to the lack of progress in other areas, especially with regard to MDG 5: reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health.

The ECLAC report stresses that in 2013 the overall maternal mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was 85 deaths per 100,000 live births, representing a 39 percent reduction with respect to 1990 – far from the 75 percent drop called for by the MDGs.

Adolescent pregnancy also remains a pressing problem in the region, with a live birth rate of 75.5 per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19.

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

“Adolescence, their development and fertility are based on ignorance in our countries,” said Molina.

Tamara, now 23, is an illustration of this. When she was 13, her 27-year-old boyfriend got her pregnant.

The unexpected pregnancy forced her to drop out of school, although she was later able to complete her primary education. She never went to high school. Three years later she had her second son, with the same father.

“I missed out on several things: of course, support from my mother and my father, but above all, sex education,” the young woman, who preferred not to give her last name, told IPS.

Tamara had a difficult life. Her mother did not finish primary school and her father was a drug addict and alcoholic. She was a witness to domestic violence throughout her childhood.

From a young age, she was raped by the oldest of her six brothers, who went to prison for 10 years for what he did, when she finally decided to go to the police, without her mother’s consent.

Today, about to have her third child – with a different man this time, but someone just as absent as the father of her first two – she said she is fighting to make sure her children get an education.

“I make an effort every day for my kids to study, I try hard to educate them, because I don’t want them to suffer like I did. I want to break the circle,” she said.

In Molina’s view, to address the gaps in sexual and reproductive health, political intentions should translate into spending on primary sexual and reproductive health care services for adolescents, training on these issues for health professionals, and effective sex education programmes.

“Mexico’s good sex education programmes are only partially functioning; the excellent programmes that Costa Rica had have been discontinued; and Colombia has made enormous efforts to come up with really good sex education teaching materials, but they have practically been doomed to fail by political and strategic questions,” Molina said.

“Something similar is happening in Peru, where there have also been good programmes but they don’t have strategic or political support from the government,” he added. “Argentina gets good results, but with strong support from the government in developing sex education programmes. The same is true in Uruguay.”

According to the doctor, the case of Chile “is the worst of all,” because “we are plagued with opprobrium and shame.”

“We were the last country in the region to have a law protecting young people with sex education, which was passed in 2010 but did not enter into force until July 2014. The situation here is embarrassing,” he said.

He added that in order to meet the Agenda 2030 target for preventing teen pregnancies, merely making birth control available is not enough, “because I could drop condoms and pills from a helicopter but it wouldn’t be an effective measure.”

The issue, he said, is that people have to actually use the contraceptives, and need to know when and how to do so – which requires education.

“The goal is preventing the first pregnancy, and to do that what is needed is education, education, and when everything else has failed, education and more education. And as part of that education – broad, in-depth sex education, without ideological bias,” he added.

Molina also stressed that both maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancy “are no longer technical, but political, problems” which require that states be responsible and implement effective public policies, without worrying about facing up to conservative power groups “who are ignorant traditionalists, and cause us terrible damage.”

As the region gets ready to sign on to the SDGs, the new challenges call for a more holistic, participative, interdisciplinary and universal approach.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Kenya Cannot Rise If Its Women Are Left Behind Wed, 23 Sep 2015 19:24:38 +0000 Zebib Kavuma Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed greets the Emir of Kuwait Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah as President Kenyatta looks on. (Photo:PSCU)

Foreign Affairs and Trade, Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed greets the Emir of Kuwait Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah as President Kenyatta looks on. (Photo:PSCU)

By Zebib Kavuma and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

Consider this. A young girl called Amina Mohamed who is the 8th of 9 children, from a modest Muslim home in Kakamega County in Kenya was encouraged by her parents to complete her education and pursue her dreams.

Amina Mohamed is Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the first woman to Chair the World Trade Organization and is credited for enhancing Kenya’s global image.

Through sheer grit, determination and a passion for the impossible, Amina a woman from ordinary circumstances went on to doing extraordinary things. Amina showed that women must persist in breaking down gender stereotypes and other barriers obstructing them from reaching their full potential.

On August 13, 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya celebrated thirty years since the fourth world conference on women that brought together gender and women affairs ministers from across the continent to take stock of the progress made in the African women movement since the conference.

“The Constitution imposes a duty on the State to use legislative and other measures, including affirmative action, to realize gender equality,” said President Kenyatta during the opening of the Nairobi +30 conference.

Kenya is involved in a healthy debate around gender and governance, primarily focusing on increasing the number of women not only in parliament but also in political parties.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010, in a bid to promote gender equality, provides that not more than two thirds of members of elective and appointed bodies should be of the same gender. The unsolved controversy in how to realize the Two-Thirds Gender Principle is still being debated well past the deadline set by the Attorney General and could bring Kenya on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

A Commonwealth report shows that Kenya also trails its neighbors in the share of women in Cabinet, parastatal directorships and top civil service jobs.

The global average of women holding parliamentary seats remains around 20 per cent, which is well below the thirty per cent target set in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and in the MDGs. Rwanda is the only country with the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, currently at over 60 per cent.

Kenya has also drafted the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and related Resolutions. The Action Plan recommends enforcement of laws that promote gender equality, inclusion and engagement of women in mechanisms for prevention, management and resolution of conflict at all levels of decision making. The plan now needs to be launched and implemented.

As President Barack Obama said during his visit to Kenya, one half of the team has been left out of the game for too long. It is time to reconfigure power relations; it is time for us to transform traditional perceptions of manhood and it is time to engage fully the one half of the team that has been given only token participation.

How will we know that we are fully involving women? That will happen when women begin having equal rights, and equal access to justice, power, resources and opportunities; when women and girls live free from all forms of violence and discrimination; when women begin making decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality and reproductive rights; and when women begin working for equal pay with men doing the same jobs.

It will also be the time when harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and child marriages are eradicated, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The constitutional provision of devolved governance, with its emphasis on decentralized processes and principles of accountability and inclusiveness, has created a perfect opportunity for a country with better choices, opportunities, access to resources and life outcomes for women.

A much overlooked prerequisite to achievement of development, peace and sustainability is gender equality which will result in improved educational outcomes, better health and greater economic prosperity. It will help Kenya reap a demographic dividend, which could bolster the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present.

What is required now is committed identification and addressing barriers to gender equality in county-specific cultures and institutions. This information can provide entry points for transformation.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend and are the engines that will fuel Kenya’s economic growth. (END | COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Opinion: Fifteen Years and Forever Wed, 23 Sep 2015 19:01:21 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

The next 15 years will be decisive for our planet’s future.

During this period we will face some of the 21st Century’s greatest challenges, amidst an ongoing and profound transition in the global economy.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Overcoming hunger and extreme poverty are foremost among those challenges. Today nearly 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Yet enough food is being produced in the world to feed everyone. Clearly we need urgent solutions to overcome the structural bottlenecks that prevent the hungry from accessing food.

In other words, social inclusion must become the backbone of development. Yet we will achieve neither social inclusion nor development, unless our choices are guided by sustainability.

We are the first generation that can end hunger and make food and nutrition security truly universal. And perhaps we are also the last generation in a position to avoid irreversible damage brought about by climate change.

The political framework needed to move us in the right direction requires an unprecedented degree of political commitment.

One critical step in that direction will be taken later this month, when the international community endorses the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with an ambitious agenda to change the world for the better in the next 15 years.

This new global pact for the future crucially includes ending poverty and hunger by 2030, mitigating and adapting to climate change and finding more sustainable ways to make supply meet demand.

The choices we make as consumers have now become just as important for the future as the ones we make as producers.

In addition to the around 800 million people who are chronically undernourished, malnutrition is also a major problem with some two billion people suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and 500 million who suffer obesity, the latter a malady that is increasing in many medium- and high-income countries.

Paradoxically this is all happening in a world where nearly a third of all food produced is lost or wasted, generating even more pressure on production.

The world being envisaged through the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is not an unattainable pipe dream. It is not utopia; we can make it real.

The solution lies in the problem. As wealth continues to gain distance from justice, survival depends more and more on the imperative of cooperation.

Either we build a future for all, or there will be no acceptable future for anyone. Any doubt in this regard pales before the exodus we are witnessing where desperate refugees attempt often deadly land and sea crossings in a desperate attempt to find a better life elsewhere.

More than 70 percent of the world’s food insecurity is concentrated in the rural areas of poor and developing countries. One of the solutions is to acknowledge and support the role that small-scale family farming can play to achieve zero hunger in a sustainable way. To achieve this we need public policies that build people’s capacities, support production, facilitate access to financial credit, technology and other services and promote international cooperation.

To eradicate hunger and poverty we must begin by moving beyond dealing with emergencies when they occur and instead direct our efforts at addressing the conditions that cause them.

The cost of failure is clear. If a business-as-usual approach prevails, by 2030 we will still have 650 million hungry people.

We have estimated that to end hunger by 2030 a combination of investments in social protection and agriculture/rural development of some USD 267 billion is required. This means some USD160/year for each person suffering hunger

This is more or less the price of a cell phone. It is a relatively small amount to pay to finally rid the world of the scourge of hunger and to do it in our lifetimes. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Opinion: From Inequality to Inclusion Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:57:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in economic inequality, thanks primarily to growing recognition of some of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences in the wake of Western economic stagnation.

The unexpectedly enthusiastic reception for last year’s publication of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” underscores this sea change.New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside.

Piketty has correctly renewed attention to the connections between the functional and household/individual distributions of income as well as to wealth inequality. Clearly, the distribution of wealth (capital, real property) is the major determinant of the functional distribution of income.

And by textbook economics’ definition, profit maximisation involves capturing economic rents of some kind – from finance, monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs), ‘competitive advantage’, producer surplus, etc., presumably thanks to successful rent-seeking, by influencing legislation, regulation, public policy, public opinion and consumer preferences.

As is understandable and the norm, Piketty’s focus is on inequality at the national level, rather than at the global level. But Branko Milanovic and others have shown that about two-thirds of overall world interpersonal or inter-household inequality is accounted for by inter-country inequality, with the remaining third due to what may be termed class and other intra-national inequalities.

International inequality

There are many competing explanations for international inequalities. Historical differences in capital accumulation, including public investments, and productivity are commonly invoked to explain different economic capacities, capabilities and incomes.

But frequently unsustainable foreign investments also lead to significant net outflows, greatly diminishing the net benefits from additional economic capacities. Financial flows to the settler colonies from the late 19th century were exceptional in this regard. Generally, a small share of foreign direct investment actually enhances economic capacities, instead mainly contributing to acquisitions and mergers.

Financial globalisation in recent decades, especially capital market flows, have not ensured sustained net flows from capital-rich to capital-poor economies, but has instead worsened financial volatility and instability, increasing the frequency of crises with traumatic effects for the real economy, and growth sustainability.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that international trade lifts all boats, it has generally favoured the richer countries at the expense of their poorer counterparts. For well over a century, except during some notable periods and some rare minerals more recently, the prices of primary commodities have declined against manufactures.

This has been especially true of tropical agriculture compared to temperate products, as productivity gains have accrued to consumers more than to producers. In recent decades, cut-throat competition has meant a similar fate for developing country manufactured exports compared to the large marketing margins of manufactures from developed economies.

Social protection

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the call to address inequality as a crucial challenge for development has emerged as an issue to be addressed in the post-2015 development framework.

Inequality gradually came back into development debates after the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF focused flagship publications on this issue a decade ago, with the publication of the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalization and Inequality.

The ongoing effects of the global financial and economic crisis since 2008 have reinforced recognition that inequality has been slowing not only human development, but also economic recovery. But this has not led to any fundamental change in economic policy thinking or a major commitment to redress inequality at the global or even national level, except perhaps by improving taxation.

Instead, it has led to a consensus to establish a global social protection floor, recognising not only that poverty and hunger in the world will not be eliminated by more of the same economic policies, especially with the currently dim prospects for sustained economic and employment recovery and growth.

Historically, the welfare state emerged in developed countries to address deprivations in the formal economy – retirees, retrenched workers, military veterans and mothers among others. Social protection and other fiscal interventions do not fundamentally challenge wealth or income distribution, and current thinking is mindful of the potentially unsustainable burden of a welfare state.

New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside. The new interventions thus seek to accelerate the transition from protection to production, for greater resilience and self-reliance.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Women’s Major Role in Culture of Peace – Part Two Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:31:47 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Another reality that emerges very distinctly in culture of peace is that we should never forget when women – half of world’s seven billion plus people – are marginalised and their equality is not established in all spheres of human activity, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

I would reiterate that women in particular have a major role to play in promoting the culture of peace in our violence-ridden societies, thereby bringing in lasting peace and reconciliation. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognised as key to the resolution of the conflict.

I believe with all my conviction that without peace, development is not possible, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development can be realised.

Integral connection between development and peace

In today’s world we continue to perceive an inherent paradox that needs our attention. The process of globalisation has created an irreversible trend toward a global integrated community, while at the same time, divisions and distrust keep on manifesting in different and complex ways.

Disparities and inequalities within and among nations have been causing insecurity and uncertainty that has become an unwanted reality in our lives. That is why I strongly believe that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other; one cannot be achieved without the other.It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Education as the most critical element in the culture of peace

A key ingredient in building the culture of peace is education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace.

The young of today deserves a radically different education –“one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.” They need the skills and knowledge to create and nurture peace for their individual selves as well as for the world they belong to.

As Maria Montessori had articulated so appropriately, “Those who want a violent way of living, prepare young people for that; but those who want peace have neglected their young children and adolescents and that way are unable to organize them for peace.”

It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted at the very first High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace in 2012 that “…. We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer: education. Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.”

In this context, I commend the initiative of the Soka University of America located near Los Angeles in initiating in 2014 its annual “Dialogue on The Culture of Peace and Non-Violence” as an independent, unbiased, non-partisan, intellectual forum to outline avenues and direction for incorporating the culture of peace and non-violence into all spheres of the educational experience.

Never has it been more important for us to learn about the world and understand its diversity. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate with one another is of primary importance.

As I had underscored at the conference hosted by the Hague Appeal for Peace on “Educating toward a World without Violence” in Albania in 2004, “the participation of young people in this process is very essential. Their inputs in terms of their own ideas on how to cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies must be fully taken into account.”

Peace education is more effective and meaningful when it is adopted according to the social and cultural context and the country’s needs and aspirations. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values.

It should also be globally relevant. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice rightly emphasises that “…culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the integrity of the Earth.”

Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative’s essential objective is to promote global citizenship as the main objective of education. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Let me conclude by asserting that to turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, basically all that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence, and to practice what we profess.

Whether it is at events like the annual High Level Forums, in places of worship, in schools or in our homes, a lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. Peace and non-violence should become a part of our daily existence. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “We Must Put Everything Aside and Just Focus on Water” Fri, 04 Sep 2015 21:18:56 +0000 Stella Paul The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
STOCKHOLM, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

Globally, more than 748 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. That is more than double the population of the entire United States.

United Nations data suggests that 1.8 billion people – that is 500 million more than the population of China – drink water that is faecally contaminated. Every year, over two million people die due to a lack of clean water.

"I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life." -- Rajendra Singh, winner of the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize
According to the latest World Water Development Report, demand for water could rise by 55 percent by 2050, an increase driven primarily by the manufacturing sector.

As the international community shifts its poverty eradication framework from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to its highly ambitious sustainable development agenda, the issue of water has never been more critical.

Between the din of policymakers trapped in endless high-level debates and scores of citizens feeling the pinch of drought, thirst and water transmitted illness – some sources say that 5,000 children die every day as a result of water-borne disease – a few voices are making themselves heard, lending clarity to one of the world’s most complex and urgent problems.

Among them is Rajendra Singh, the winner of this year’s prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prize for water”, for his 35-year-long commitment to water management and conservation.

Singh himself has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘Water Man of India’ and is credited with reviving an ancient rainwater harvesting technique that has breathed new life into several rivers and returned clean, running water to over 1,200 villages in his home state of Rajasthan, located in the north-east of the country.

With its massive rivers and their countless tributaries making up one of the most complex freshwater systems in the world, India provides an excellent case study in water management.

Over 150 million people in this country of 1.2 billion currently live without access to fresh water, compounding widespread poverty and raising serious questions about energy, environmental degradation and sustainable development.

On the sidelines of the recently concluded World Water Week 2015, IPS correspondent Stella Paul sat down with the renowned Indian water activist to hear his views on the future of this scarce and incredibly precious resource.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: You always say, “We do not need new policies. We need water action”. What do you really mean by that?

A: Let me speak of India.

In India, there is no dearth of policies and acts; there are many [laws] regarding water conservation, water management and water use. But these policies and acts are not executed properly, which is why there is no concrete action. Now we need to start clear, community-driven, decentralized work on water. And the role of the government in [this type of] water management is very important: providing adequate resources to communities and creating an environment that is conducive to taking action.

There should be joint action between the government and the community for water management. We need four things for that: water literacy, water conservation, water management and efficient use of water.

Q: You say the government should create the environment and provide the resources for water action. It is often thought that ‘resources’ means ‘money’, which comes from the private sector. How do you respond to that?

A: Change never comes from the private sector’s money. For real change, we need the government and the community. What we need is not corporatization, but communitization of democracy. If [the] corporate [sector] does everything, then, where is the democracy?

In Rajasthan, we have many corporations, but we also have a water parliament. We maintained the community’s rights here. We maintained a democratic environment. People rose up here. Wherever people rose for their rights, those robbing society had to run away. Corporations are here and they are here to stay – but it is important to see that they do not loot the people and that they do not pollute the system.

Q: We are entering the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In regards to water, what must the government do differently, compared to what it did during the MDGs?

A: Life, livelihood and dignity – all of these three are linked to water. In the SDG era, we have to give the highest priority to water. We have to put everything aside for a while and just focus on water. We shouldn’t get tangled [up in] projects, indicators and the LFAs (Logical Framework Approach), but stay focused on actual work.

Today there is massive encroachment of water bodies. To prevent this encroachment, we must conduct identification, demarcation and notification of the water bodies. In many cases, due to erosion, there is a lot of silt in the water and since there is no clear title of the water body, the real estate lobby encroaches upon it.

Encroachment on the river is a problem that is found across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other regions as well. Poverty in the [Asian] region is a result of a water crisis, because of disrupting people’s water rights. If we end this, we can make the entire region water adequate.

For instance, the [2005] National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was originally created to revive and reshape the country’s water system. The then Minister of Agriculture in India, Raghunath Singh, came to us, saw my work and decided to design a programme through which action can be taken in regards to water.

The same should be done again. NREGA should be mandated to focus only on water.

Q: You were on the board of Mission Clean Ganga [the third-largest river in India]. Can the river be ever truly revived?

A: It’s difficult but not impossible. But the government is only engaging with engineers, technicians etc. The government has not engaged with the sons and daughters of the Ganga – the people. If the government truly involves people in the Clean Ganga Mission, it can take a maximum of 10 years to revive the river.

In fact, any of the country’s dead rivers – the Musi River, the Mithi River, etc – can be revived in 10-15 years. What we need is the political will of the government and the participation of common people.

I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sustainable Settlements to Combat Urban Slums in Africa Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:19:36 +0000 Busani Bafana Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Busani Bafana
LUANDA, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Slums are a curse and blessing in fast urbanising Africa. They have challenged Africa’s progress towards better living and working spaces but they also provide shelter for the swelling populations seeking a life in cities.

Rural Africans are pouring into towns and cities in search of jobs and other opportunities, but African cities – 25 of which are among the 100 fastest growing cities in the world – are not delivering the much needed support services, including housing, at the same rate as people are demanding them.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) projects that nearly 1.3 billion people – more than the current population of China – will be living in cities in Africa in the next 15 years."We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture" – Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association

Africa’s urbanisation rate of four percent a year is already over-stretching the capacity of its cities to provide adequate shelter, water, sanitation, energy and even food for its growing population.

Safe and resilient cities and human settlements is one of the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed on in New York next month. As the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in September 2000, UN-Habitat has largely succeeded in meeting the target of taking 100 million people out of slums by the time the MDGs expired in Asia, China and part of India … but not in Africa.

However, Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association, believes that Africa can solve its slums situation by planning and developing towns and cities that strike a balance in the provision of housing, water sanitation, energy and transport while luring investments to create jobs.

According to Omisore, the problem lies in the fact that so far settlements have been developed for people but not with people, and he asks if Africa wants the humane aspects of its cultural values and heritage reflected in its cities or has to replicate the cities of developed nations to become classified as developed.

“Slums and sprawls demand understanding the reasons and problems resulting in their existence and identifying the class of people living there,” says Omisore.

“African governments focus on the infrastructural development of developed nations without consideration for the human development of our different communities and ensuring creation of employment opportunities which is key to the sustainability of our cities. People make the cities, not the other way around.”

By redefining slums, policy-makers in Africa can work more on understanding the rural-urban links to arrive at African solutions for African problems, he argues, calling for a “campaign of marketing Africa and appreciating what is African.”

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture.”

At a time Africa is grappling with the issue of land tenure, particularly in agriculture, limited and often expensive land in urban settlements is posing the question of whether Africa should build up or build across, and there are those who argue that densification is the answer to Africa’s housing woes.

At the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum hosted by United Cities and Local Government-Africa (UCLG-A) and the government of Angola in Luanda in April,  Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat argued that densification is an avenue for the transformation of Africa and its cities.

“If urbanisation should be possible and if we are going to build landed housing without going up, it simply means it will be expensive, but if we have to densify then we need to go up,” said Kacyira.

“Yes, let us stick to our identity and culture, but let us stick to principles that make economic sense. We are not going to have vibrant cities by running away from the problem and spreading and sprawling.”

Kacyira also argued that by planning, reducing desertification and recycling waste, African cities can help reduce their carbon footprint, a key issue on the post-MDG agenda.

Meanwhile, a Kenya housing project could represent a model for the future of

Housing in Africa. Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, a federation of slum dwellers, has partnered with Shack/Slum Dwellers International to provide decent shelter for people living in slums by creating a low cost three-level house called  ‘The Footprint’, which costs 1,000 dollars.

The project has built 300 houses in two settlements this year. Dwellers pay 20 percent towards the structure and are given support to access a microloan covering 80 percent of the cost.

The UCLG-A network which represents over 1,000 cities in Africa, estimates that Africa needs to mobilise investments of 80 billion dollars a year for upgrading urban infrastructure to meet the needs of urban residents.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nation Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikes Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqis Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awards Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel

Nora Happel interviews H.E. Alexandru Cujba, Secretary-General of the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD) and Director-General of the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC).

By Nora Happel

Next month, the South-South Awards will be taking place for the fifth time, honouring the achievements and contributions of heads of state and government, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society in promoting sustainable development in the Global South.

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

2015 is a special year in many respects, with the U.N. celebrating its 70th anniversary and U.N. member states concluding their work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The South-South Awards, on Sep. 26, are going to be held in support of these major events that will shape the new development agenda for the next 15 years.

The South-South Awards are perhaps the most prominent example of the many development programmes designed and implemented by the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) to support U.N. development efforts, exchange knowledge and best practices in the area of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation and build partnerships between governments from developing countries and private sector companies.

Launched in 2010 during the 16th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation against the backdrop of chronic under-coverage of the Global South, IOSSC has started with the news programme “South-South News” and since moved into project development to expand its practice areas into the fields of business development and social development.

Last year, the organisation launched the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD), an umbrella structure supporting its different activities and also, in particular, the South-South Awards.

In an interview with IPS, SS-SCSD Secretary-General and IOSSC Director-General H.E. Alexander Cujba, former Permanent Representative of Moldova to the United Nations and former Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, shared some insights on the 2015 South-South Awards."We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements... but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development."

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: This year, the MDGs will be replaced by the SDGs. This process has been reflected in the theme for the 2015 South-South Awards, which is “From MDGs to SDGs: Supporting poverty reduction, education, and humanitarian efforts.”

Will the 2015 South-South Awards be different from previous ones due to the important events happening this year such as the adoption of the SDGs, first of all, but also for instance the 70th anniversary of the U.N.?

A: This is the fifth year that we organise the South-South Awards and I would say that this year will be both a continuation of our previous ceremonies as well as a different event because, as you rightly mention, we conclude the MDGs and we are moving to a new agenda, the post-2015 development agenda.

So while previously we were recognising achievements of the member states in specific areas that were linked to specific MDGs, this year we want to emphasise the achievements of member states in implementing all eight MDGs.

Of course, results differ and not only results of the different countries and regions, but also results in different MDGs. I think that undoubtedly, MDG no. 1, combating poverty and hunger, was a major MDG. So therefore, this year, we partner with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and our traditional supporter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in order to emphasise the achievements of U.N. member states and developing countries specifically with regard to MDG no. 1.

Apart from that, we also use this opportunity – because it is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. – to highlight the role that the U.N. had over the last 70 years not only in the area of preserving peace and security but also in promoting development. At a time when many scholars, politicians, experts discuss the creation and the need for the United Nations in 1945, we see that now the U.N. has to bring a new impulse to the development of member states, not only preserving security and peace, but also supporting the sustainable development of its member states.

Q: What are the main objectives of the South-South Awards? Can you tell me about some of the results of previous South-South Awards?

A: Working with different missions here at the U.N., we learn that small countries, particularly least developed countries, have their own positive results and achievements that frequently are not known except by the diplomatic world, except by the U.N.

Therefore, in previous years, we wanted to highlight specifically these small but extremely important results for those developing countries. That’s why every year we were working with our co-organisers in order to identify the best practices and achievements of those developing states in different specific areas.

This year, however, we want to emphasise the overall implementation of the MDGs. It is a good opportunity for us to highlight the congregation of efforts in order to achieve those noble goals that were adopted in 2000.

Q: How are the winners of the South-South Awards selected and which criteria have been most relevant this year in choosing the winners?

A: We have learned from other awards that were presented by different U.N. agencies. They have some specific criteria that are linked to the work, mission and goals of the U.N. agencies and structures that co-organise the respective events.

In our case we want to emphasise the results of the implementation of the MDGs but also the positive examples of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. As countries from different continents differ by size, resources and achievements, it is hard to compare the results achieved by these different countries.

On the other hand, we put emphasis on both the difference and unity of these countries. As I said, sometimes we don’t know what was achieved in for example Lesotho or Costa Rica or Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world. So therefore we use the database and the statistics of major U.N. organisations.

This year we used in particular the MDG report that was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat and especially the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). We used the Food Insecurity Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other related agencies and of course we referred to the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organisation.

We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements by number of population raised from hunger or by number of children going to school, but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development.

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

A: The South-South Awards ceremony is traditionally organised prior to the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. We invite heads of delegations that attend the General Debate and also the heads of the diplomatic missions, permanent missions to the U.N. and consulates in New York.

Amongst our participants are also high-level officials from the U.N. and from inter-governmental organisations that are part of the U.N. system. We also have CEOs of major corporations that are collaborating and working in the developing world. We have celebrities and civil society leaders. Our mission is to bring together all stakeholders that are part of development.

Right now, we have received confirmation from numerous heads of state and government that are coming to New York to attend the Summit on the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the General Debate. This year, we will therefore have a very diverse high-level participation with a total of around 800 guests expected.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the 2015 South-South Awards?

A: We hope that we will be able to emphasise the achievements, big and small, but important for the developing countries in implementing the MDGs and moving towards a new post-2015 development agenda. We want these lessons to be shared as widely as possible and be transferred to other countries.

We have all these good examples. We now have to learn from those positive experiences of developing and least developed states. I sincerely hope that our participants will have a good experience, enjoy the awards and that we will be able to continue our cooperation and our mission which is to bring together different stakeholders with the goal of supporting developing states and development initiatives.

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zones Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N. Relief Agency Pledges to Open Schools ‘On Time’ for Half a Million Palestinian Refugees Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Overcoming a serious funding shortfall, and caught between numerous regional conflicts, the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees announced on Aug. 19 that it would nevertheless open schools on time for the roughly half-a-million children who rely on the international community for their education.

In a statement released today, the cash-strapped U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) promised to start the school year on schedule, allowing over 500,000 kids in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to return to their classrooms between Aug. 24 and Sept. 13.

Established in 1949 to address the needs of some five million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs 685 schools across Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday.

For months both UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have stressed the importance of uninterrupted schooling for Palestinian refugees, and warned of the risks of allowing a generation of young people to be forgotten.

Congratulating UNRWA on its tireless efforts, Ban said in a statement Wednesday, “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions”, adding: “[For Palestine refugees] education is a passport to dignity. We must stand by them and the agency that serves them.”

Ban thanked member states for their contributions to UNRWA’s coffers, which include a 19-million-dollar contribution from Saudi Arabia and 15 million dollars each from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

To date, the agency has received contributions amounting to 78.9 billion dollars, or just over 75 percent of the 101-million-dollar deficit. The money will go towards fulfilling UNRWA’s mandate of providing health care, relief and social services, camp improvement and education.

Numerous obstacles stand between Palestinian children and their classrooms. In documenting some of these challenges, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lists such issues as military incursions; demolitions of schools buildings; restrictions on movement or limited access to school premises; and damage and destruction of school property.

A 2013 UNICEF report entitled Education Under Occupation revealed that 38 schools serving approximately 3,000 children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “have been issued either verbal and/or written stop-work or demolition orders by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).”

In the 2011-2012 period, UNICEF recorded 63 instances of “denial of access” to education in the Occupied Territories, which affected over 34,000 Palestinian students.

During the seven-week-long conflict in Gaza last summer some 327 schools were partially or completely obliterated, according to a 2015 UNICEF update, stripping thousands of kids of their only protective environment.

The situation is even more precarious for Palestinian refugees, who are often closer to the frontlines of conflict and thereby face greater risks in their quest to gain a decent education.

For instance in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, home to an estimated 16,000 Palestinians, all 28 schools have been closed and the only education opportunities exist in the form of informal classes conducted by volunteer teachers in 10 “safe spaces”, according to a report by the Guardian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Two Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racism Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Widowhood in Papua New Guinea Brings an Uncertain Future Tue, 11 Aug 2015 23:23:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

It has only been six months since Iveti, 37, lost her husband of 18 years, but already she is facing hardship and worry about the future.

Similar to many married women in the rural highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state of seven million people, she stayed at home to look after their two children, a daughter aged 11 and a son now in his early twenties, while her husband’s income paid for the family’s needs.

“There was always food to serve to my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market for 20 or 30 kina [seven to 10 dollars]." -- Iveti, a 37-year-old widow
“I worry about food; I worry about bills and the children. I worry about the relatives who come and visit to mourn with us, because we have to kill a pig [for a feast] or give them something. Who is going to come and say they have the money for all this?” Iveti frets as she sits in her modest home on the outskirts of Goroka, a town in Eastern Highlands Province.

She is surrounded by her children, and her husband’s mother and sister who also live with her.

“There was always food there to serve my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market. We get 20 kina (seven dollars) or 30 kina (10 dollars). Every two days we pay about 20 kina for the power and with the 10 kina (about 3.60 dollars) which is left, we buy a tin of fish.

“My daughter goes to school and we budget 4 kina (just over a dollar) for her lunch,” she continued.

There is a diversity of widows’ experiences in Papua New Guinea. Those who have completed secondary or tertiary education and have an independent source of income are in a strong socio-economic position to look after themselves and their children.

However, more than 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas where many women have limited access to education and employment.

Female literacy in the Eastern Highlands, for example, is about 36.5 percent. Gender inequality in the country is exacerbated by social practices, such as early and forced marriage, bride price and widespread domestic and sexual violence experienced by two-thirds of women in the country.

While there are no accurate statistics available about widows in Papua New Guinea, the national Widows Association claims that most have been in widowhood for between five and 30 years.

For women in the highlands, the risk of losing a husband is increased due to the prevalence of tribal warfare. Outbreaks of fighting between different clan groups can be triggered by disputes over landownership or pigs, the most prized livestock, or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed against a community.

And, in most cases, the death of a male warrior plunges the wife and children into a precarious existence.

Families are also being impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2010, 31,609 cases of the virus had been reported with the highest prevalence of 0.91 percent recorded in the Highlands, slightly higher than the national rate of 0.8 percent, which is estimated to have decreased to about 0.7 percent last year.

When a husband dies, the widow and children usually have the right to remain on the husband’s land and property. But this is often not the case if AIDS, which is accompanied by social stigma, has been the cause of death.

Agatha Omanefa, Women’s Project Officer at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to counselling and supporting families, told IPS that while extended families were traditionally very protective of vulnerable members, she had witnessed rising cases of brothers of the deceased husband making moves to claim the land.

When “the husband’s relatives come in to share the properties the widow becomes a loser with her children […]. Sometimes they come up with stories, history, such as: ‘you are from there, your husband is from here’ and then she [the widow] needs someone to support her to secure the land,” she explained.

“It is having a big impact on widows’ lives, especially when they have small children. So they often keep little food gardens to try and maintain the children’s welfare as well as themselves.”

Families in Papua New Guinea are traditionally large with up to eight or 10 offspring, and the struggle includes paying for children to complete education, especially to secondary level. Female headed households are several times more likely to be below the absolute poverty line, according to government reports.

But one of the greatest threats to a widow’s welfare is the risk of being accused of sorcery. In nearby Simbu Province, women aged 40-65 years are six times more likely than men to be blamed for using witchcraft to cause a death or misfortune in the community, reports Oxfam, and the consequences, including torture and murder, can be tragic.

“There is growing concern that sorcery accusations that lead to killings, injuries or exile are often economically or personally motivated and used to deprive women of their land or property,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, reported in 2013.

Widows with sons, however, have a source of protection.

“In our culture in the Highlands, when you have a son, no-one will chase you out, because you will gain strength from your son, but if a woman does not bear any child then she is more vulnerable,” Irish Kokara, treasurer of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Council of Women, explained.

President Jenny Gunure added that there was also a lack of awareness about women’s rights and the law at the village level, a situation the women’s council is working to rectify through a bottom-up education programme aimed at rural women, which was begun last year.

However, Kokara believes that the risk of violence will not diminish until the behaviour of young men, who often perpetrate such crimes as part of vigilante gangs, is addressed.

“It is the youths who take drugs, like marijuana, who are the ones burning the women and hanging them on trees. So we need to change the youths first, then we can change the community,” she declared.

In recent weeks widows across the country have called through the local media for the government to introduce legislation to better support recognition of their rights.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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Opinion: Time for the World to Protect and Value its Young Human Rights Defenders Tue, 11 Aug 2015 16:50:42 +0000 Clara Fok and Vida Coumans Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

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

By Clara Fok and Sara Vida Coumans
NEW YORK, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

There’s a deep irony that as people around the world mark International Youth Day on Aug. 12, hardly any attention will be paid to the shrinking space for young human rights defenders who increasingly find themselves on the receiving end of government repression. 
In recent years, helped by the connective power of social media, the world has witnessed the growing force of young people fighting for and defending their rights and shaping their communities. Young people are mobilising the masses to hold governments accountable by calling on them to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments.

Of course, young people have always played a key role in social movements where they have a huge stake. But now they are increasingly taking on leadership roles in peaceful protest movements and driving change.

Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments. They are not waiting to be told what to do.

This has come at a price. Unfortunately – and too frequently – states respond to young people’s peaceful civic engagement by beating and locking up youth activists.

Take Myanmar, for example. More than 100 student leaders, including human rights defenders and activists, are facing jail time for protesting against the new National Education Law. Among them is Phyoe Phyoe Aung, the 26-year-old leader of one of Myanmar’s largest student movements.

On Aug. 25, she’ll turn 27, but it looks likely she will spend her birthday behind bars as part of an unjust and lengthy prison sentence after she was arrested in March following a violent police crackdown on largely peaceful protests.

Many more across the country continue to be harassed and intimidated in what appears to be a systematic clampdown on the student movement.

This should come as no surprise – the Myanmar authorities have a long history of repressing student-led movements, which they fear will trigger wider calls for political change and threaten their grip on power.

On the other side of the world, things are no different. In June, the security forces in Angola arbitrarily arrested 15 youth activists for participating in a meeting where they peacefully discussed politics and some of the concerns they have regarding the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for the past 36 years.

They have been accused of planning to disrupt public order and posing a threat to national security. Even young activists who were not in the meeting were accused of being part of it. They are all being held in solitary confinement far away from their homes, making it very hard for their loved ones to visit. 

Efforts to secure the release of the activists were severely punished. On July 22, five people who tried to visit them were detained for nine hours and a few days later a peaceful protest calling for the release of the 15 was violently repressed.

Such heavy-handed responses are not unique to Myanmar and Angola. Everywhere – from Turkey to Venezuela, the United States to Egypt – young human rights defenders have been thrown behind bars for fighting for their rights.

Society does not always welcome the acts of resistance by young human rights defenders. As noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “general perception of youth in society, also conveyed by established media outlets, often point to their young age and lack of maturity as grounds for not giving them a say in public affairs. Youth and student movements are seen as troublemakers rather than serious actors that can fruitfully contribute to public debate”.

But denying young people a seat at the table limits opportunities to engage in debates about the progressive realisation of human rights. Even when young people are allowed to participate, it is often meaningless or tokenistic, because it is widely assumed that they are there to learn and develop, rather than to equally contribute to solutions.

This age-centric approach becomes a vicious cycle – very little room is given for young people to actively participate and shape the agenda, while policy makers fail to effectively address the barriers young people face to accessing basic human rights.

We need to take a step back and reflect on what this means for how states react to young people when they are peacefully engaging with society in a bid to create a space for them to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

If governments are serious about the lives of young people, they must ensure that young human rights defenders can claim and exercise their rights freely and without fear.

It is true that meaningful youth civic engagement will not happen overnight and it takes time to create productive inter-generational partnerships that are based on trust. But governments can take the first step by immediately and unconditionally releasing all the human rights defenders detained for peacefully exercising their rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Partnerships Critical to the SDGs, Reducing Inequality Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:26:19 +0000 Aruna Dutt South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Aruna Dutt

Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September.

In his inaugural address, Oh laid out his agenda, saying, “The Council will lead the efforts to build an inclusive and engaging global partnership – one that welcomes the significant contribution that all stakeholders can provide.”"We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.” -- Hahn Choong-hee

He has made the problem of inequality among and within nations his priority and announced that he is convening a special meeting of ECOSOC on this subject early next year.

In an interview with IPS, Oh’s Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee said, “Inequality has in the past been a separate discussion, however, it is now being discussed much more in the context of development.”

Explaining its importance of dealing with both development and inequality in a troubled world, Hahn said, “We cannot achieve a really peaceful and inclusive society without addressing violent extremism. At the same time, without achieving economic growth there are always isolated and marginalised groups which are more prone to violence, which makes it really difficult to counter violent extremism.”

Hahn, a career diplomat who has held senior positions in South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and served in Africa, Europe and America, stressed the importance of global partnership in pursuing the SDGs.

This requires three steps which must be accomplished.

The first is communicating the SDGs, so everybody understands what they stand for and hope to accomplish. However, there should also be conceptual understanding of the underlying issues such as social justice, inequality, and the economic, social, and environmental aspects.

Second, he said, all stakeholders, including civil society, NGOs, youth, media and academia, should participate in the process.

Third, everybody has something to contribute to the SDGs. “Whether it is financing from the private sector or technology and knowledge from academia and universities, everybody can contribute,” Hahn said.

Hahn touched on a range of issues of importance for the post-2015 agenda.

“Throughout the next 12 months we have many different processes to invite global partnerships, in which youth particularly will be extremely engaged. Society is very vocal about youth being a major player in the outcomes of development, especially in the next 15 years, but this is not just an issue to be talked about, but an issue to be acted on,” said Hahn.

He said motivating people for development was key, especially in rural areas. “This is an important engine. We have resources and technology, however, we cannot overcome this poverty without people understanding that we have to work together diligently. We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.”

Hahn also stressed the importance of democracy for development, citing the experience of his own country.

“Democracy means developing democratic institutions and rule of law to ensure that money which individuals earn through hard work will be protected… In (the Republic of) Korea’s development narrative, economic growth was advancing while the democratic process was lagging behind. However, when people have a good revenue and increased salary, they begin to want better protection systems for this income. What democracy means is protection and transparency.”

On how to deal with extremism, he said that education, media, migration and youth are four key areas in tackling the problem.

“Although we are talking about ‘Nobody Left Behind’ in the post-2015 agenda, in reality we need to leave behind the groups perpetuating violent extremism, in order to indicate that their argument is not acceptable to the international society,” Hahn said. “We have to isolate these groups.”

He added: “We have to teach young students about global citizenship. Critical thinking is very important when it comes to handling issues of violent extremism, to teach the youth that violent extremism is not workable with a peaceful and inclusive society.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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