Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 05:34:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLP), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Côte d’Ivoire Steps Up Public Education to Keep Ebola Count at Zero Amid West Africa’s Worst Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 09:31:23 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136158 Translator Serge Tian in village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire. He translates sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi’s message about the spread of Ebola in West Africa and how people can recognise the virus and avoid infection. Credit: Marc-Andre Boisvert/IPS

Translator Serge Tian in village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire. He translates sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi’s message about the spread of Ebola in West Africa and how people can recognise the virus and avoid infection. Credit: Marc-Andre Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
GUEYEDE, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

The whole village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire gathers under the tattered roof of a shelter as the rain drizzles outside, and listens carefully as sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi talks.

“We are not allowed any complacency. You might not know Ebola. And it is better that you don’t,” says Koffi, the highest governmental authority of the area, through translator Serge Tian.

Koffi explains how one can contract the virus and how to recognise the basic symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

He has held hundreds of meetings like this since the first Guinean cases of Ebola appeared last March. He travels from village to village in the Tiobli region he is in charge of, often visiting the same village two, three or four times, to utter the same message.

After the stop at Gueyede, IPS will follow him in another village, to answer the same questions from locals with well-prepared lists.

“It is a lot of work. But I think the population gets the message as we discuss [Ebola],” Koffi tells IPS as he drives his SUV on a particularly bad road.

His peer sub-prefects and prefects hold the same meetings in other Ivorian regions. This West African nation has had no cases of Ebola yet. But the Liberia border is few kilometres away. And the epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak is not more than 100 kilometres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

“We should not wait to have a first case of the illness to take measures. Public mobilisation is important as the state cannot be everywhere,” said the Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie during her last press conference on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Two of out of the four countries hit by the current epidemic, now declared out of control by the World Health Organisation (WHO), share a border with Côte d’Ivoire. Nigeria is the fourth country in West Africa that has had cases of Ebola.

And many worry that Côte d’Ivoire will soon be the next country to be hit by the most severe outbreak of the illness since its discovery in 1976. So far, there have been more than 1,000 deaths and the number of infected people is expected to soon hit 2,000. However, WHO said Friday, Aug. 15 that those numbers were “vastly underestimated”.

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Moving fast to implement preventive measures

When the first cases appeared in Guinea last March, the Ivorian government took several preventive measures, including the creation of advanced detection centres, and a strict ban on bush meat — which is believed to be a vector of contamination for the Ebola virus.

For the inhabitants of Gueyede, it is a big deal to not eat bush meat. Most of their protein comes from it. They especially fancy grass-cutter, a big rodent. Giving up this popular delicacy has meant that Ivorians had to change their habits. But they did. And government has closed all bush meat markets in the area.

“At first, we thought Ebola was a joke — a rumour invented." -- Albertine Beh Kbenon, Gueyede villager

Nevertheless, locals still have to figure out what to eat and what not to eat. “We can eat fish. But we can’t eat bush meat. So can we eat crocodile?” asks Gueyede chief Bernard Gole Koehiwon.

Puzzled, the under-prefect redirects the question to the area nurse, Drissa Soro. “I’m not sure. But I think it is safe. I will check and come back to be sure,” Soro says.

Diet is not the sole concern, and is not enough to fight the spread of a disease that kills almost 90 percent of infected persons and which spreads mostly through body fluids.

At public meetings villagers learn what to do if someone seems to have the illness. But they mostly share their thoughts, try to figure out how the disease spreads, and to sift out the facts amid the rumours about the virus that spread very fast.

The sub-prefect has a difficult task explaining why it is dangerous to shelter a member of their family from Liberia. In Côte d’Ivoire, the ethnic groups here are split along the Liberia’s borders with families having members living in both countries.

In addition, 50,000 Ivorians are still sheltered in refuge camps in Liberia since the 2010-2011 electoral crisis here.

One lady at the meeting, who came back from Liberia few weeks ago, worries about who will take care of her old parents that she left in the refugee camp. She travelled home ahead of them to prepare the house for their return. The sub-prefect says that they are taken care of, but it is difficult to find the words to reassure her.

Involving communities

Changing diet and avoiding family members are difficult changes. But Ivorian authorities are betting that it is possible through peer education.

Once the under-prefect leaves, community leaders push the message. In each village, a coordination committee incorporating several members from all ages and genders is created to pursue the discussion.

“Those villages are very isolated. Some of them are not accessible by car,” explains sub-prefect Koffi. It would not be possible to contain an eventual pandemic without community support.

Nurse Soro agrees. “I am on alert since last March. Every time I see someone, I talk to him about Ebola. I try to see if there could be possible cases,” he tells IPS.

As there are no doctors in the area, Soro is the most qualified medical source for about 6,000 inhabitants. Even if he drives from village to village in his little motorcycle on muddy tracks, he does not have the time to see everyone.

“Community health aides are necessary. They know how to speak to their community. And they are able to maintain presence for me.”

Albertine Beh Kbenon is part of the coordination committee in Gueyede. “At first, we thought Ebola was a joke — a rumour invented,” she tells IPS.

She is now taking the threat seriously enough to go from door to door and to talk about it. She was herself first very sceptical of what authorities were saying. When the local and international media, especially radio, relayed the information, she realised that it was serious.

“In Liberia they took this as a joke. They believed the government was lying. This killed them. We don’t want this to happen here,” concludes Kbenon.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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East Africa Breaks the Silence on Menstruation to Keep Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:30:18 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136145 Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When Peninah Mamayi got her period last January, she was scared, confused and embarrassed. But like thousands of other girls in the developing world who experience menarche having no idea what menstruation is, Mamayi, who lives with her sister-in-law in a village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, kept quiet.

“When I went to the toilet I had blood on my knickers,” she told IPS. “I was wondering what was coming out and I was so scared I ran inside the house and stayed there crying.

“I just used rags. I feared telling anybody.”For girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks” -- Dennis Ntale, 18, a student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, Uganda

Not having access to or being able to afford disposable sanitary pads or tampons like millions of their Western counterparts, desperate Ugandan girls will resort to using the local ebikokooma leaves, paper, old clothes and other materials as substitutes or even, as a health minister told a menstrual hygiene management conference this week, sitting in the sand until that time of the month is over.

“We always try to give them something to use at school, just at school,” Lydia Nabazzine, a teacher at Mulago Private Primary School in Kampala, where about 300 out of 500 students are female, told IPS.

“When they go home we don’t know how they go about it, because we cannot afford funding up to home level.”

But the 2012 Study on menstrual management in Uganda, conducted by the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and IRC International Wash and Sanitation Centre in seven Ugandan districts, found that over 50 percent of senior female teachers confirmed there was no provision for menstrual pads for schoolgirls.

When some girls have their period, they may miss up to 20 percent of their total school year due to the humiliation of not having protection, according to separate research from the World Bank. This profoundly affects their academic potential.

“Those days when I was menstruating I could be absent for up to five days a month until menstruation had stopped,” recalled Mayami.

It’s a continent-wide problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund says one in 10 African girls skipped school during menstruation. Some drop out entirely because they lack access to effective sanitary products.

A number of recent initiatives have, however, tried to address this.

On May 28 this year, the world marked the first Menstrual Hygiene Day to help “break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.”

On Aug. 14 – 15, East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference, which has the theme “breaking the silence on menstruation, keep girls in school,” has been taking place in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

At least 100 schoolteachers, schoolgirls – and boys – NGOs, including Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) Uganda, civil society members and others are taking part in the two-day event. They’re calling on the government to put in place a menstrual hygiene management school policy. They also want the government to provide free sanitary pads to girls in schools, like neighbouring Kenya has done.

Despite keeping silent about the horrors of menstruation for months, Mamayi shared with the conference attendees the solution she found to that time of the month.

The student, now 13, had been walking home from school when some older pupils told her, “madam [the teacher] said menstruation is a normal thing for every girl.”

“So I asked them about it,” she told IPS.

“Now I’m using AFRIPads.”

Invented by the eponymous Uganda-based social business, AFRIPads are washable cloth sanitary towels designed to provide effective and hygienic menstrual protection for up to a year.

One Ugandan, Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kampala’s Makerere University, has also invented the environmentally-friendly MakaPads, from papyrus reeds and waste paper. MakaPads are said to be the only trademarked biodegradable sanitary pads made in Africa.

Mamayi said the re-useable pads work out to be 5,500 Ugandan shillings (2.11 dollars) a year, compared to the 30,000 shillings (11.49 dollars) that disposable pads would have set her back.

“Now when I go somewhere [when I have my period] I sit and am comfortable,” said Mamayi. “I’m not bothered by anything. I don’t worry whether I’ve got anything on my skirt. I don’t miss school.”

She added: “I’m going to tell my friends that menstruation is a normal thing in girls.

“I want my friend also to be free, to tell their parents to buy for them pads. Let them not fear.”

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Courtesy: Amy Fallon

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Breaking the culture of silence around menstruation is the aim of a new book, Understanding and Managing Menstruation, launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at the conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys.

Maggie Kasiko, a gender technical advisor at the Ministry of Education and Sports, told IPS that the government hoped the book would reach as many students, teachers and parents across the country as possible.

“Not many girls have the opportunities to have their mothers and aunties around, so they start their menstruation without knowing,” she said, adding many parents and relatives were busy trying to earn a living for their families.

Dennis Ntale, 18, a senior five student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, said he didn’t know what menstruation was when he encountered a fellow student with her period in class earlier this year, and tried to comfort her. It was only sometime later when he relayed the incident to his male friends and they told him she was “undergoing her MP [menstrual period].”

“They’re [teachers] not teaching this to the boys in schools,” Ntale told IPS.

“I believe boys should be informed about this because there are many of them out there who have no idea about this.”

He said for girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks”.

“If you don’t have that pad she won’t be able to do a thing,” Ntale said. “[We should] make sure she has what will keep her in school.”

Kasiko said the Ministry of Education and Sports was continuing to ensure schools had separate facilities for boys and girls, with the girls having washrooms and changing rooms where they could bathe and change, had access to clean water, extra pads and Panadol.

But she said she didn’t see the government providing free pads to girls “in the short-term or the long-term”.

“Starting to distribute sanitary towels to each and every girl, every month, is quite a cost for the ministry when you look at all the other areas that the ministry needs to take care of,” she said.

“That, our guidelines for Universal Primary Education (UPE) is very clear, is a role of parents. It’s sanitary wear. Just like you buy a panty for your child, you should be responsible for buying a sanitary towel for your child.

Kasiko added: “But we’ll support the parents and work together with the parents to give them knowledge to ensure the environment is clean and girls stay in school.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 11:35:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136042 Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Putting the Littlest Disaster Victims on the Caribbean’s Climate Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/putting-the-littlest-disaster-victims-on-the-caribbeans-climate-agenda/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:04:41 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136077 Students of Buccament Government Primary School in St. Vincent receive gifts from sixth graders at the Green Bay Primary School in Antigua following the terrible flooding that occurred in Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Christmas Eve 2013. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Students of Buccament Government Primary School in St. Vincent receive gifts from sixth graders at the Green Bay Primary School in Antigua following the terrible flooding that occurred in Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Christmas Eve 2013. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Children are often the forgotten ones when policy-makers map out strategies to deal with climate change, even as they are least capable of fending for themselves in times of trouble.

According to David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). “Very often when we speak about poverty reduction we are not seeing children, children are invisible in terms of development.“If we fail to build resilience to adapt to those potential impacts now, we will risk consigning our future generations of Anguillians, and the entire OECS region, to an irreversible disaster." -- Anguilla’s Environment Minister Jerome Roberts

“And it’s not just St. Lucia but especially throughout the wider Caribbean,” Popo told IPS.

He cited the findings of a recent UNICEF-facilitated workshop that showed climate change has a litany of negative consequences for children, in areas such as education, poverty reduction and other forms of social development.

The OECS Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (OECS-RRACC project) is supporting St. Lucia through the establishment of a Geographic Information System (GIS) platform that will enable the mapping of water infrastructure for improved management and delivery services to consumers.

Popo said such a platform must make provision for the impact of the findings on children, who often appear to be overlooked when disaster mitigation plans are being considered.

“This instrument, this GIS platform has to be able, in addition to mapping the infrastructural facilities throughout the island, I think it’s very important as well to have some very strong correlations with respect to what happens to people and especially our children,” he said.

“We can very well imagine the impact in terms of schooling, education, health and the other related impacts within the unit of the household especially in areas which are impoverished and impoverished households…If there is no water in the house, the parent cannot send the child to school.”

The RRACC Project is a joint effort by the OECS Secretariat and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to assist Eastern Caribbean States in various ways relating to climate change.

The UNICEF Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in an analysis titled “Children and Climate Change in the Small Islands Development States (SIDS) of the Eastern Caribbean” said trends in the Caribbean during the last 30 years are already showing significant changes to the environment due to climate change.

It said the results of climate change are all expected to negatively impact children and families due to lost/reduced earnings for families from loss in the agricultural, fishing and tourism sectors; threatened environmental displacement – 50 percent of the population live within 1.5 kilometres from the coastlines – increased vector- and water-borne diseases; and family separation due to migration because of challenges in some countries.

David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the OECS. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

David Popo, head of the Social Policy Unit at the OECS. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The analysis also cited the loss of classroom time for children due to emergencies during the storm season; that fact that the rights of children were not addressed within most emergency plans/policies; the psychological toll of constant fear of natural disasters; and further family separation and migration.

UNICEF said children, as an especially vulnerable group, will bear a disproportionately large share of the burden.

Anguilla’s Environment Minister Jerome Roberts told IPS the region’s response to the climate change challenge must involve children, adding it will be judged by history.

“If we fail to build resilience to adapt to those potential impacts now, we will risk consigning our future generations of Anguillians, and the entire OECS region, to an irreversible disaster,” he said.

“As minister with responsibility for education and the environment, it will be remiss of me not to emphasise the need to ensure that Anguilla provides quality climate change education.

“Our approach must encourage innovative teaching methods that will integrate climate change education in schools. Furthermore, we have to ensure that we enhance our non-formal education programme through the media, networking and partnerships to build public knowledge on climate change,” he added.

Roberts noted that as a small island, Anguilla is very susceptible to the potential impacts of climate change, droughts, flooding and the inundation of the land by sea level rise.

“We are aware that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing,” he said, commending those educational institutions that have already established school gardens for themselves and their communities and encouraging those in the process of doing the same.

“I am aware that some students have learnt about the fragility of their environment by participating in such initiatives. In fact, conservation projects allow children to acquire first-hand knowledge on the delicate nature of their environment,” Roberts said.

“I therefore applaud and encourage other schools to be creative and to develop similar or even more innovative schemes related to climate change and environmental management in their schools.”

Popo stressed that climate change is not going away and the impacts are predicted to be worse going forward.

“All of us are aware of the occurrences of recent climatic events: the drought in 2009, Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and, of course, the more recent Christmas Eve storm in 2013, which apart from bringing to the front a number of our development issues, signaled the need as well for capacity building and planning for the accompanying negative impacts on our islands’ resources,” he said.

A two-year-old child was among more than a dozen people killed when a freak storm ripped through the Eastern Caribbean, destroying crops, houses and livelihoods in its wake in three of the world’s smallest countries – St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica —on Dec 24, 2013. A 12-year-old child was also washed away in the flooding and remains missing.

The storm dumped more than 12 inches of rain on St. Vincent over a five-hour period — more than the island’s average rainfall in a month. This triggered massive landslides and the cresting of more than 30 rivers and streams.

Hundreds of houses were destroyed. In addition, 14 bridges were washed away, and the pediatric ward of the country’s main hospital was left waist-high in water.

Sonia Johnny, St. Lucia’s ambassador to the United States, said her island was battered by torrential rains for 24 hours, interspersed with thunder and lightning.

“As one little boy said, we thought it was the end of the world. Nobody in St. Lucia had ever experienced such heavy rains before,” Johnny said.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Youth Suicides Sound Alarm Across the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:50:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136071 Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Suicide rates in the Pacific Islands are some of the highest in the world and have reached up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, double the global average, with youth rates even higher.

On International Youth Day, which this year focuses on ‘Youth and Mental Health’, young Pacific Islanders have highlighted the profound social and economic challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Youths committing suicide seem to get younger and younger by the year,” Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based advocacy and support group, Youth Champs for Mental Health, told IPS. “Stressors contributing to the growing trends of suicide are unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.”

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” -- Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health
The Pacific Islands has an escalating youth population, with 54 percent of people in the region now aged below 24 years and those aged 15-29 years are at the greatest risk of taking their lives, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Tarusila Bradburgh, coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, believes that “the burden of multiple issues that affect young people in the Pacific Islands is enormous and many are not well-equipped to cope.”

A decade ago there were an estimated 331,000 annual suicides in the region, accounting for 38 percent of the world total.

Anne Rauch, organisational development advisor for the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health said, “There is […] significant under-reporting of suicide deaths. On outer islands and remote areas the body is buried before an autopsy can be performed. There is a lot of family shame about suicide so doctors will sometimes sympathetically report the causes of death.”

In 2012, there were 160 reported suicides in Fiji with the majority under 25 years of age, but accurate statistics are not available.

Under-funded and under-resourced mental health services are struggling to address the issue, with suicide representing 2.5 percent of the disease burden in the Western Pacific region, nearly double the rate of 1.4 percent worldwide.

According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organisation Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, a significant root cause of young people taking their lives is intergenerational conflict as modern lifestyles based on individual freedom and independence challenge centuries of conformism to traditional Pacific communal social hierarchies and conventions of behaviour.

In the tiny central South Pacific territory of Tokelau, located north of Samoa, a national health department report claims a significant factor in youth suicide is relationship breakdowns, including those between parents and children.

There were 40 attempted suicides in the territory, which has a population of 1,500, during a 25-year period ending in 2004, with 83 percent of fatalities involving people under 25 years, and physical punishment of youth by their elders contributing to 67 percent.

Rauch added, “There are an increasing number of young people [committing] suicide because of poor examination results and failure to reach the academic standards expected by parents.”

An equal challenge facing the vast majority of Pacific youth is poor prospects of employment and fulfilment of aspirations generated by exposure to affluent global lifestyles through the digital and mass media.

In the small economies of most Pacific developing island states, high population growth of up to 2.4 percent is far outpacing job creation, thus greater access to education for many is not translating into better chances of gaining paid employment.

In the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, but only 10,000 will secure formal jobs. Youth unemployment is an estimated 45 percent in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that “denial of economic and social opportunities leads to frustrated young people” and “the result can be a high incidence of self-harm” with “the loss of the productive potential of a large section of the adult population.”

According to SPC, actions to combat the tragic fallout of youth suicide for families, communities and a generation that has an important role to play in the region’s future should include measures to reduce the social stigma of mental illness and build the capacity of youth-friendly health and counselling services.

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health,” Rogers said. “This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.”

Bradburgh advocates for all stakeholders, including communities and churches, to actively promote greater public understanding of mental illness, while governments need to invest in better mental health and outreach services.

“The more we openly discuss the issues in safe places and forums, the more knowledgeable we will be and better prepared to address the issue of suicide,” she said.

(END)

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Kenya’s Own ‘Erin Brokovich’ Changes Lives of Girl Survivors of Sexual Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 08:20:24 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136048 The Equality Effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: Fiona Sampson/Equality Effect

The Equality Effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: Fiona Sampson/Equality Effect

By Adam Bemma
MERU, Kenya, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

Surrounded by endless rows of green tea plants, Mary carefully picked a leaf and placed it into a basket next to her. It seemed like an ordinary day at work for the 13-year-old girl from Meru, in central Kenya. After work she escaped to the adjacent farm for privacy, but was instead attacked and raped by a middle aged man. 

“My grandmother took me to the police to make a report, but they didn’t arrest him. I was told he bribed the police,” Mary* tells IPS as her 11-month-old baby girl sits on her lap.

Mary, now 14 years of age, and her daughter live at Ripples International’s Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre in Meru, Kenya. It houses 15 other girls like Mary, three of whom have babies of their own, all born out of the sexual violence perpetrated against them.

“Sexual abuse is known as defilement under Kenyan law. All of our girls here have been defiled by either family members, neighbours or employers. One girl was even defiled by a police officer,” Mercy Chidi, founder and director of Ripples International, the organisation which established Tumaini Girls Rescue Centre, tells IPS.

Chidi is a social worker, not a lawyer, but her human rights advocacy makes her a respected figure in Kenya and beyond. She has provided shelter to survivors of sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriage at Ripples International. The organisation’s faith-based approach makes creating fundamental change in the livelihoods of Kenyan girls its mission.

“It started over 10 years ago with abandoned babies and orphans. We gave them a home,” Chidi says. “We also provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.”

A 14-year-old girl named Grace*, looking much younger than her stated age, takes a seat on the couch in front of the television at Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre. She is HIV-positive.

“I was raped by my father,” she tells IPS as her voice quivers. Grace has been living at the shelter for the past year, trying to keep up court appearances and her anti-retroviral medications. She’s also trying to get back into school.

Fiona Sampson is a Canadian lawyer and the executive director of Equality Effect, a human rights organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Kenya.

Sampson met Chidi in 2010 during a human rights course in Toronto, Canada. She calls Chidi the “Erin Brokovich of Kenya” due to her relentless pursuit of justice for Kenyan girls.

“Mercy asked if the Equality Effect would help her develop a legal advocacy solution to the defilement problem, and the failure of police to enforce existing laws, and we said ‘yes.’  The Equality Effect was already working in Kenya on other projects,” Sampson tells IPS.

Sampson brought together legal experts from Canada, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case. The 160 refers to the number of girls selected, even though only 11 petitioners were named in the claim. These girls faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape.

“We argued that the police treatment of the girls’ defilement claims was discriminatory and violated their human rights in contradiction of the equality guarantees in the Kenyan constitution and regional and international human rights law,” she says.

In 2013, the 160 Girls went from victims to victors. The judge read the verdict in a Meru, Kenya courtroom: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.”

Muthomi Thiankolu is a constitutional lawyer and lead counsel on the 160 Girls case at the High Court of Kenya.

“In Kenyan law, defilement is sex with a minor. Someone under the age of 18,” Thiankolu tells IPS. “The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape.”

Mary bounces the baby on her lap. She now feels the law will protect the both of them. The child starts to giggle and a smile comes over Mary’s face.

“At the time it happened, I was working to make money to pay school fees,” she says. “Now, living here at the centre, I’m arranging to go back to school.”

*Name changed to protect their identity

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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Egypt’s Poor Easy Victims of Quack Medicinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/egypts-poor-easy-victims-of-quack-medicine/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 16:41:18 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136026 Many pharmacies and herbalists in Egypt prescribe their own 'wasfa' (secret drug or herbal elixir). Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Many pharmacies and herbalists in Egypt prescribe their own 'wasfa' (secret drug or herbal elixir). Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Aug 10 2014 (IPS)

Magda Ibrahim first learnt that she had endometrial cancer when she went to a clinic to diagnose recurring bladder pain and an abnormal menstrual discharge. Unable to afford the recommended hospital treatment, the uninsured 53-year-old widow turned to what she hoped would be a quicker and cheaper therapy.

A local Muslim sheikh claimed religious incantations, and a suitable donation to his pocket, could cure the cancer. But when her symptoms persisted, Ibrahim consulted a popular herbalist, whose wasfa (secret drug or herbal elixir) was reputed to shrink tumours.

“I felt much better for a few months and thought the tumour was shrinking,” she says. “But then I got much worse.”

When she returned to hospital the following year, tests revealed that the tumour was still there, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Moreover, the herbal mixture she was taking had caused her kidneys to fail.“Successive [Egyptian] governments have done a poor job at both regulating the medical sector and educating the public on health issues, leaving Egyptians unable to afford their country’s two-tiered health care system vulnerable to ill-qualified physicians, spurious health claims and quackery” – Dr Ahmad Bakr, Egyptian health care reform lobbyist

Egypt is a “minefield” of bad medicine, says paediatrician Dr Ahmad Bakr, a health care reform lobbyist. He says successive governments have done a poor job at both regulating the medical sector and educating the public on health issues, leaving Egyptians unable to afford their country’s two-tiered health care system vulnerable to ill-qualified physicians, spurious health claims and quackery.

“Our health care system is deeply deformed,” Bakr told IPS. “It’s not just a matter of low funding and corruption, ignorance (pervades every tier of) the health system, from government and doctors to the patients themselves.”

He says Egypt’s lax regulation and poor enforcement has created room for unqualified doctors to perform plastic surgery out of mobile clinics, peddle snake tonic on satellite television, and dabble dangerously in reproductive health.

It is estimated that one in every five private medical clinics in Egypt is unlicensed, and thousands of medical practitioners are suspected of using false credentials or having no formal training.

“There are a lot of so-called doctors who practise medicine in Egypt,” says Bakr. “They mostly work out of small clinics, but you’ll even find them in the most prestigious hospitals.”

The incompetency goes all the way to the top.

In February, Egypt’s military announced it had invented a device to remotely detect hepatitis C – along with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), swine flu and a host of other diseases. The device, which is said to work by detecting electromagnetic waves emitted by infected liver cells, is based on a fake bomb detector marketed by a British con artist.

The military also claimed that it had invented a revolutionary blood dialysis machine that can cure hepatitis C, AIDS and even cancer in a single treatment.

“I was shocked when I saw these incredible claims were being made with barely any clinical evidence,” says Dr Mohamed Abdel Hamid, director of the government-run Viral Hepatitis Research Lab (VHRL). “With any new medical treatment you should perform peer-reviewed, double-blind clinical trials before announcing it.”

Critics say Egypt’s government contributes to a climate of medical irresponsibility. State media routinely exaggerates health threats and feeds public hysteria, while the knee-jerk reactions of government authorities – including high-ranking health officials – are coloured by popular sentiment and political motives.

Reacting to the global swine flu pandemic in 2009, overzealous parliamentarians passed a motion to slaughter all of Egypt’s 300,000 pigs.

There was no evidence that pigs transmitted swine flu to humans, nor had the virus been detected in Egypt. But officials, swayed by the Islamic prohibition on eating pork, appeared to seize the opportunity of a like-named virus to rid the Muslim-majority nation of its swine.

“The pigs were kept almost exclusively by poor Christian zebaleen (rubbish collectors), who used them to digest the organic waste,” says Milad Shoukri, a zebaleen community leader. “Thousands of families lost their livelihoods to this absurd decree, which had no scientific basis.”

Global pandemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian flu and the latest contagion, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), have presented golden opportunities for Egypt’s myriad quacks and swindlers to fleece the uninformed masses.

“With each health scare we see the same patterns,” says Cairo pharmacist Amgad Sherif. “People panic and throw science out the window. The low level of education and high illiteracy among Egyptians makes them susceptible to believe even the most ridiculous medical claims.”

When a swarm of desert locusts descended on Cairo, enterprising charlatans took out ad space in local newspapers offering a “locust vaccine” to anxious citizens.

Not surprisingly, the injected serum, which turned out to be tap water dyed with orange food colouring, offered no protection against “locust venom”. But it did leave duped households poorer, and at risk of blood contamination or hepatitis C infection from jabs with unsterilised needles.

“The people doing this only care about getting money from people who don’t know any better,” says Sherif. “They know nothing about medicine and do not follow even the most basic hygiene practices.”

In one popular scam, people claiming to be state health officials troll low- and middle-income neighbourhoods offering costly “preventative medicine” for infectious diseases. The fake medical personnel, dressed in lab coats and wearing official-looking badges, administer bogus vaccinations to unsuspecting families.

“Sometimes they give people injections – who knows what’s in them,” says Sherif.

Health officials say the sham physicians create confusion that affects legitimate health campaigns, such as Egypt’s national door-to-door polio eradication campaign.

Egyptian authorities have also found themselves in a cat-and-mouse game with thousands of “sorcerers”, whose superstition-based folk medicine draws desperate working-class patients suffering physical and psychological ailments. The self-proclaimed doctors and faith healers are particularly difficult to catch, say prosecutors, because they tend to work out of rented apartments and advertise mostly by word of mouth.

An Egyptian judicial official told pan-Arab newspaper Al Arabiya that despite attempts to prosecute sorcerers for swindling and fraud, most cases are dropped when the sorcerers reach a settlement with their victims. “There is almost one sorcerer for every citizen,” he concluded.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Tech Entrepreneur Encourages Rwanda’s Young Women to Venture into ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:13:53 +0000 Aimable Twahirwa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135979 Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Akaliza Keza Gara is only 27, but she’s achieved much for women in Rwanda’s technology sector in just a short space of time.

She is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation.

She has a list of accolades to her name, including being one of four Rwandan women entrepreneurs recognised in 2012 for their exceptional efforts in Information Communication Technology (ICT) by the International Telecommunication Union, and being appointed as a member of the 4Afrika advisory council for Microsoft this year."There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology." -- Nancy Sibo, student

But Gara considers her main achievement as being part of a team of animators who worked on African Tales, the first ever cartoon series produced in Rwanda.

“Seeing my name in the credits [of the cartoon series] was a big moment for me and I am so thankful I had that opportunity,” she tells IPS.

As a university graduate in multimedia technology, Gara is convinced that since women are consumers of ICT, it is important that they are also a part of the developers of technology so they can ensure that there are more diverse products available that appeal to both genders.

However, Gara notes that there are a limited number of Rwandan women in the ICT industry.

“But there is  still hope that newer developments in the field of IT can now [see] women [working] alongside men,” she says.

There are no clear figures about the total number of women in the IT industry here. The blueprint for this Central African nation’s second phase of economic development emphasises transforming itself  from an agrarian to knowledge-based economy in order to achieve middle-income status by 2020.

A 2012 report by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, praised Rwanda for laying a 2,500-km national fibre optic cable in order to provide broadband internet for all.

Rwanda  has been ranked seventh in Africa and 80th in the global ranking among countries that have embarked on boosting broadband affordability and uptake.

While the country has been developing national action plans on ICT since 2001, it is only recently that the need for women’s participation in the sector has been magnified.

Gara is among a group of young women entrepreneurs here who are promoting an initiative called “Girls In ICT Rwanda”, which was launched last year to encourage more girls and women to embrace the field.

The project provides grants to young women to implement and market their ICT projects. Money is allocated based on the innovation aspect for each project.

Goldon Kalema, a senior technologist in charge of e-government services coordination in the Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and ICT, tells IPS that the initiative aims to promote and encourage the deployment and utilisation of ICTs.

“The skills development area is designated to be among the key five focus areas identified to fuel continued growth, ” he says.

In 2012, a knowledge and technology lab — known more commonly as KLab — was established as the first-ever ICT innovation centre in the country to bring innovators together and give them the resources they need to explore their ideas, learn from each other, and develop innovative technology.

However, young women still remain intimidated by the technology sector because of the stereotype that it was a male-dominated field.

“If women are part of and can make up a huge part of the market for ICT products, they can also enjoy the available opportunities alongside men in the ICT industry from both developer and end-user perspective,” Gara points out.

Gara believes that there is also a need to ensure that young women acquire relevant skills. “Girls In ICT Rwanda” also organises events for female students here, giving them an opportunity to showcase their ICT skills and meet role models.

It has led to the introduction of a wide variety of training courses that are provide free of charge and are intended especially for young women

“This training has been vital in helping a number of beneficiaries acquire new skills, which lead to new and interesting jobs,” Gara says.

Nancy Sibo, a young student in the faculty of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Rwanda, is winner of a contest called Ms. Geek Rwanda.

The competition, which is hosted by “Girls In ICT Rwanda” and is open to female university students who have come up with their own technology innovations, is in its first year.

Sibo developed a mobile application that allows farmers to find out in real time the nearest area where they can get access to veterinary services and artificial insemination.

“There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology … and promoting the girl effect approach for the sustainable development of the nation,” Sibo tells IPS.

Meanwhile, Gara is doing just that with cartoons.

She is currently in the process of setting up an animation studio to create cartoons and films targeting African children.

“My commitment is to encourage more girls and women to join the ICT sector, but I also get the feeling that by establishing an animation studio this will showcase my innovations to help Rwandan children, by creating characters and settings that they can relate to and stories to entertain and inspire them,” she explains.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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OPINION: For Nigerian Girls, Education Is the Key That Opens Doors to Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-for-nigerian-girls-education-is-the-key-that-opens-doors-to-progress/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 21:46:50 +0000 Nnenna Agba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135972 This op-ed was written on behalf of five Nigerian sisters in their quest to get an education]]>

This op-ed was written on behalf of five Nigerian sisters in their quest to get an education

By Nnenna Agba
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

I grew up in Nigeria, in a culture where bearing a son validates a woman and her family, and a male innately holds the superior position in society over a female. At 11 years of age, I escorted my mother to deliver her fifth baby girl, my youngest sister, and watched our mom die in the hands of an unfit doctor.

My mother had succumbed to the confines of her society; even though she already had four healthy daughters, having a son was a traditional standard she was determined to achieve, even at the expense of her life. Realising the underlying factors that subjected her to such a predicament presented a vivid picture of my position as a girl in Nigerian society.

Courtesy of UN Women

Courtesy of UN Women

Almost immediately, the importance of education took on a different meaning in my life and in the lives of my four sisters. I went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and a Master’s of Science in Urban Affairs.

With my education, I have been able to sponsor my younger sisters’ education in Nigeria, thereby increasing our likelihood of having a progressive future that far surpasses the traditional limitations defined by our society.

For Nigerian girls like my sisters and I, education is the key that opens the door when an opportunity to succeed beyond customary expectations knocks.

Education is a fundamental right, to which I firmly believe we should be naturally entitled. It is the only chance most Nigerian girls have to rise above the cultural and traditional system of stratification that continue to cast women as inferior to their male counterparts, economically, politically and socially.

Women who have been able to escape such subjugation have done so mostly by being empowered through education. A good education offers Nigerian girls the opportunity of being valued members of their society and for this vital reason I am devoted and driven to ensure that my sisters continue with their studies.

For girls in Nigeria and around the world, education can enable economic independence, pave the way for political participation, and empower both men and women with the necessary knowledge to actively and effectively oppose oppressive norms that perpetuate different forms of violence against women.

And in contrast to the culture of gender inequality that persists in Nigeria, education serves as an avenue of exposure to a cultural alternative. Nigerian girls stand to benefit from this exposure, and the possibility of such enlightenment poses a major threat to extremist groups such as Boko Haram.

Though we dream and yearn for the miracle of immediate solutions, I know that change does not occur by magic, nor does it take place overnight; rather it requires the dedication of time and relentless collective effort. My mother’s death is a product of unjust societal norms that facilitate perverse gender inequality. A society’s customs are engineered by its past generations, and in the same fashion its future citizens can redefine the culture that rules them by cultivating a new norm through education.

I am an optimist and I believe it is possible to change the world, to better the status of women globally and particularly in places like Nigeria. This is not because I am naive or unaware of the shortcomings of many efforts to effect change.

My optimism stems from a desperate place—a core belief that the world as a whole, leaders and citizens, must awaken to the urgent need to end injustice against women. For me, necessity and possibility have become synonymous because living with the consequences of gender inequality makes it all the more obvious that change is imperative.

While my heart bled over the sorrow captured in the “Bring Back Our Girls” cry for help, my mind desperately indulged in a renewed hope that Nigeria might no longer ignore the agony of women and girls. Unfortunately, it often takes the presence of pain to garner the passion of a nation to vehemently advocate for change and demand action by its government.

Although Boko Haram is perceived as an opponent to progress, the greater obstacle lies in a broader reluctance to take action in protecting girls in Nigeria who simply want an education.

Nigerian girls, like my sisters and I, desire and deserve for our aspirations of becoming valued members of society to be realised. Education is the vehicle towards living this dream.

Raised in Nigeria, Nnenna Agba gained popularity when she went on the widely watched television show America’s Next Top Model. With hard-won scholarships, she graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry; she also holds a Master’s of Science degree in Urban Affairs. Nnenna is supporting the education of her four sisters in Nigeria, and is the face of Kechie’s Project, an NGO that provides scholarships to girls from Nigerian schools.

Beijing20Logoen-100x100This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, check out the In Focus editorial package on The Girl Child on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

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Child Malnutrition Doesn’t Take Vacation in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:45:12 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135969 Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

It’s two in the afternoon, and María stirs tomato sauce into a huge pot of pasta. School is out for the summer in Spain, but the lunchroom in this public school in the southern city of Málaga is still open, serving meals to more than 100 children from poor families.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him.” -- Mercedes Arroyo
“The kitchen is always operating, winter and summer,” Miguel Ángel Muñoz, the prinicipal of the Manuel Altolaguirre school, told IPS. “There are families in situations of extreme need. For many children, the only hot meals they eat are what they are served at school.”

The school is in La Palma-Palmilla, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in this city in the southern autonomous community or region of Andalusia.

A number of reports have described the dire economic situation faced by many families with children in Spain, and the resultant problems of poor quality diets and child malnutrition.

There are 2.3 million children in Spain – 27.5 percent of the total – living under the poverty line, according to a study by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund.

The report, “La Infancia en España 2014” (Childhood in Spain 2014), released Jun. 24, found that the number of households with children where no adult is working increased 290 percent since 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out. Between 2007 and 2013 the total climbed from 325,000 to 943,000 families.

The unemployment rate in this country of 46.7 million people stands at 25.9 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute. Then there is the “working poor” who earn wages too low to cover mortgage payments or rent, utility bills and food.

“My mother sells lottery tickets and my father is at home,” Rafa told IPS just after eating pasta, salad and watermelon for lunch in the Manuel Altolaguirre school lunchroom. The eight-year-old has siblings aged four, 10 and 12.

Sitting next to him, 11-year-old Yeray said he and his brother Antonio have lunch at the school every day while his father works “carrying luggage in the airport.”

“The food is good,” said Yeray, who wants to “fix cars or be a policeman” when he grows up.

Daniel Fernández, with the local non-governmental organisation Animación Malacitana, who has been responsible for summertime activities in the school for 13 years, told IPS that “there are entire strata of society in emergency situations” and in need of help in Spain.

Since 2013 the government of Andalusia, the most populous autonomous community in Spain, has extended through the summer vacation period the aid it provides during the school year, and subsidises summer school in institutions like Manuel Altolaguirre in cities throughout the region.

In summer school, the poorest children are served breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at no cost, while they participate in recreational and educational activities run by social organisations.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him,” Mercedes Arroyo, who has three children – aged 18, 24 and 28 – and three grandchildren – two seven-year-olds and a 10-year-old – told IPS.

“And many of us are in that situation,” said her husband, Enrique Sánchez, outside the “25 Mujeres” “economato social” – government shops that sell basic foodstuffs and cleaning and hygiene products at cost to poor families – in La Palma-Palmilla.

It is now common to see grandparents supporting their children and grandchildren – and even great-grandchildren – on their small pensions. Rosario Ruíz, 67, draws a disability pension of 365 euros (500 dollars) and lives with her 26-year-old unemployed granddaughter who is a single mother of two children, aged two and five.

“Are you going to write about how I need help? Are you going to tell?” Ruíz asked IPS after shopping in the ‘economato’.

The families of some 200,000 children in Spain can’t afford a meal based on beef, chicken or fish every two days, the NGO Educo reported on its website.

Poor nutrition in childhood can have irreversible effects on children’s health, abilities and development, experts say.

“Parents need school lunchrooms to be open in the summertime too,” said Muñoz, who stressed the vulnerability of the children who attend schools in La Palma-Palmilla.

The children mainly come from gypsy (Roma) or other immigrant families, most of them from Romania. They are served breakfast and lunch, and are given an afternoon snack in a bag to take home, year-round as part of an anti-poverty plan run by the socialist government of Andalusia, one of the regions with the highest unemployment rates in Spain.

Different NGOs in Málaga also organise summer activities for poor children. For example, Málaga Acoge runs ¡Queremos montar un circo! (We Want to Mount a Circus!) for 120 immigrant children, financed through microdonations, while Prodiversa ran a summer camp in July for 23 children between the ages of six and 11, subsidised by the Obra Social la Caixa Proinfancia and offering meals, tutoring and counseling.

Spain is the European Union country with the second highest level of child poverty, following Romania, according to a report by Caritas Europa on the social impact of the austerity policies applied in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis, released Mar. 27.

Caritas, a Catholic social assistance organisation, put the proportion of children under 18 in Spain living on the edge of social exclusion at 29.9 percent.

And the report Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europe published by Save the Children in June put the proportion at 33.8 percent.

“It’s a chronicle of impoverishment foretold,” economist Juan Torres López told IPS. He said the “policies involving steep cutbacks have dismantled the social services and basic collective assets,” turning Spain into “the country with the worst inequalities in Europe.”

According to the economist, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has adopted “inadequate, unfair and ineffective” measures to combat the economic crisis, instead of opting for “alternatives that could bring good results such as tax reforms aimed at greater equality and financing that is not set up to benefit the banks.”

The budget earmarked for children in Spain fell 14.6 percent from 2010 to 2013, UNICEF reported.

Cuts in public spending began during the administration of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011). But the biggest cutbacks in social expenditure in democracy in Spain have been applied since Rajoy took office.

Teachers and members of social organisations told IPS that some students ask to fill their plates three times in the school lunchrooms. Many don’t even have hot water at home to take showers in the winter, because they live in broken homes or come from extremely poor families.

“Good thing the summer comes. Then I don’t mind taking a shower with cold water,” a boy whose family could not afford a water heater or gas cylinder every month told Fernández.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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More U.S. Diplomas Come with Crushing Debtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/more-u-s-diplomas-come-with-crushing-debts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-u-s-diplomas-come-with-crushing-debts http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/more-u-s-diplomas-come-with-crushing-debts/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 17:34:56 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135945 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

Leah Hughes has big dreams of becoming a community organiser in Appalachia. A rising senior at the California-based Scripps College, Hughes is pursuing a dual degree in International Relations and Studio Art, and is incredibly thankful for her higher education experience thus far.

“As a first generation college student, my experience at a private institution, which specialises in the fields of study that I am interested in, has been the single most transformative experience of my life,” Hughes told IPS.

Araba Hammond of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) says student debts are generally not an issue in Africa. Credit: Julia Hotz/IPS

Araba Hammond of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) says student debts are generally not an issue in Africa. Credit: Julia Hotz/IPS

“It has led me to dedicate my life to public service…and has provided an opportunity for me to help others with the knowledge I have gained.”

Yet before Leah can embark on her community service aspirations, she has one not-so-little thing to worry about.

So far, she has incurred more than 30,000 dollars worth of tuition debt, in addition to more than 15,000 dollars of loans with interest rates.

Though Hughes was offered Scripps’ only merit scholarship, the college’s award will cover only 14,000 dollars worth of her debt, which will continue to grow by accumulating interest for every year she cannot pay.

Leah is certainly not alone in this battle, as she one of more than 40 million Americans who currently holds student debt.  They are collectively responsible for 1.2 trillion dollars of outstanding student loans in the United States.

Overall, student loan debts have doubled since 2007.

“What’s going on is exploitative and wrong,” Hughes told IPS. “If we continue to sell the idea that education is the way students and people from low-and middle-income backgrounds-such as myself are to move up and become productive members of society and supporters of a healthy economy, we are obligated to provide a framework for students to pay off their debt, rather than be crippled by the weight of unpaid loans.”

According to an analysis of the 2011-12 school year conducted by the Centre for American Progress, a think tank here, higher education institutions collected 154 billion dollars in tuition and fees, while families and students financed such costs with 106 billion dollars in loans from federal student-aid programmes.

Regardless of these enormous figures, Olivia Murray, the analysis’ co-author, is enthusiastic about the return on investment that college offers.

“Despite rising college costs and potentially high student debt, college is still the most valuable investment a student can make in their future, and is becoming increasingly important in an ever more specialising economy,” Murray told IPS.

“Unfamiliar” model

This fervent belief in the value of higher education was echoed by fellows from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), who discussed the topic at the Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), a think tank here, last week.

Yet while Araba Hammond and Regina Agyare, two of the YALI fellows, were similarly enthusiastic about the benefits of college that Hughes and Murray outlined, they said they were “unfamiliar” with the payment model in the U.S.

“The cost of education isn’t something we’ve really had to worry about,” Hammond told IPS. “Even for Africa’s most expensive universities, they are affordable for almost all people, given the amount of scholarships available.”

Adding that she cannot recall any friends who have accumulated student debt, Hammond said that “students [in Africa] wouldn’t graduate with the debts that students here graduate with.”

Agyare seconded Hammond’s remarks, stating that “student loans here are very, very small,” and that workplace compensation is and has been reliable source of debt relief.

“Obscene” government profits

U.S. President Obama has recently recognised this potential, and has announced his plan to expand the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) plan, which would forgive student loans to borrowers who pay 10 percent of their incomes back after a 20-year period.

Yet for a more direct and immediate intervention, prominent U.S. lawmaker Elizabeth Warren has crafted the “Banks on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act,” which would let student loan borrowers refinance their debt at lower interest rates.

“This is obscene,” Warren said of the U.S.’s student loan model. “The government should not be making 66 billion in profits off of the backs of our students.

“It’s time to end the practice of profiting from young people who are trying to get an education and refinance existing loans.”

While partisan opposition has prevented the bill from being enacted, Warren, with an army of students and families from the middle class, are still fighting for its passage.

“Students and parents should be able to refinance their student debt, just like every other loan type in the U.S., especially as student debt becomes the largest form of debt carried by people in this country,” Hughes told IPS.

As the legislative battle for refinanced student loans rages on, students, families and non-profits are mobilising around the issue of student loan debt, calling their cause the “Higher Ed Not Debt” campaign.

The organisation bases its work on providing support to current borrowers, addressing the causes of declining affordability, educating the public about the financial sector’s role in creating student debt,  and engaging the masses through democratic action.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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How Farming is Making Côte d’Ivoire’s Prisoners ‘Feel Like Being Human Again’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:11:39 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135863 Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Prisoners at Saliakro Prison Farm in Côte d’Ivoire. Prisoners, who were selected on account that they are non-violent and condemned for short and medium term sentences, have a relative freedom to move within the gated farm. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
SALIAKRO/ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

François Kouamé, prisoner Number 67, proudly shows off a sow and her four piglets. Dressed in his rubber boots, he passes by two new tractors as he happily makes his way to a field where pretty soon cassava and corn plants will start growing. “Look at those sprouts. It is a lot of work!”

Being imprisoned in one of the world’s most impoverished country’s is far from an easy ride. But Ivorian authorities are searching for alternatives to the overcrowded prisons and malnourished prisoners here. And they just may have found the answer — in a farm.

The Saliakro Prison Farm, where Kouamé is currently serving out the remainder of his one-year prison sentence, is the first of its kind in Côte d’Ivoire. He was one of the first detainees to be sent here in December 2013.

The 21 buildings on the farm, built on a former summer camp, are to provide accommodation for 150 prisoners who have been sentenced for less than three years for non-violent crimes. Here they will learn new skills in farming.“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life.” -- Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders

For Kouamé, being on a farm is a relief compared to the six months he spent in Soubré State Prison for cutting trees in a neighbouring cocoa plantation.

“We were sleeping four persons in a space that could contain only one person. And we were granted only a bowl of rice per day,” says the young man.

Now he eats three meals a day, and stays in a clean room with 16 other prisoners. Each man has his own bunk bed, a closet and plenty of space to move about in.

Mamadou Doumbia, 32, is serving a two-year sentence for stealing computers. The quiet and articulate man is relieved to be on the farm. He spent 11 months in Agboville prison, in Agnéby Region close to Abidjan, the country’s economic capital.

He reveals a dark portrait of life in Agboville prison. Rape, malnutrition and pests are some of the many things he says he witnessed.

“I feel like being human again,” he tells IPS.

Though life on the farm is no vacation. Inmates must wake up at 5:30 am and be ready for work no later than 7am. They work till 3pm, only taking a short break for lunch. Evenings are their own to do with as they will, but they have to be in their dormitories by 9pm.

Through the Saliakro project, Ivorian authorities and backers hope to improve inmate conditions, reduce costs and help reintegration.

Overpopulation and malnutrition

Côte d’Ivoire has relatively modern prison facilities compared to the rest of West Africa, where most countries have not invested in new prisons since the 1970s. In neighbouring Ghana, the Jamestown Colonial fort only ceased to be used as a penitential facility in 2008.

In Guinea-Bissau, the country had to wait for the United Nations to build a prison in order to stop cramming prisoners into what is now a beautiful colonial house, renamed Casa dos Direitos or the House of Human rights. Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia all have overcrowded prisons dating back to the 1960s.

Still, Ivorian prisons were planned for another era. In the Abidjan Detention and Correction Centre, known by its French acronym MACA, overpopulation is an understatement. The building, conceived in the 1980s for 1,500 prisoners now has a population of over 5,000.

“Hygiene is very difficult. There are frequent water disruptions,” Jean a prisoner at MACA, who prefers to remain anonymous as prisoners are not allowed to speak to journalists, tells IPS over the phone.

And now, even if the government and international donors start to reopen detention centres in the north, closed by a decade of de facto separation with the south, congestion in state prisons remain dire.

The prison in Man, a town in west Côte d’Ivoire, holds several perpetrators of the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis that resulted in over 3,000 deaths.

While it has been renovated in the last year, newer does not mean less crowded. It was built to hold only 300 inmates but it currently holds twice as many. Didier, who is awaiting trial in Man Prison, says the basic meals of rice have left him hungry. “We don’t [get to] eat three meals. Most of the time we eat only once,” he tells IPS over the phone.

In May, five prisoners from Man died and several others were hospitalised. Dr. Viviane Lawson Kiniffo, the prison’s doctor, told Ivorian media that promiscuity, malnutrition and hygiene were big issues.

Self-sufficiency and reintegration

Back in Saliakro, Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly inaugurates Côte d’Ivoire’s first prison farm in front a selected group of VIPs. “More farm prisons will soon be open,” he says.

Coulibaly has several reasons to be satisfied. Aside from improving inmate’s living conditions, once fully functional, Saliakro Prison Farm will relieve prison budgets by several hundred dollars as, besides feeding its own prisoners, it will produce enough to make a profit from selling produce on local markets.

But the 450 hectares of are not only there to deliver a relief to state budget.

“It is more than about feeding themselves. It is also about getting those prisoners back to a normal life. It is about learning new skills and being able to reintegrate and participate fully in society,” Saliakro’s superintendent, Pinguissie Ouattara, tells IPS. “This is about bringing an alternative to crime, and decreasing the crime rate.”

Saliakro is not on any map: this town does not exist. But it is the contraction of Kro, which means “village” in the local Baoule language and “Salia”, the first name of former superintendent Salia Ouattara who died in 2007.

“Our objective is truly to make prison time an opportunity for a sustainable change in life,” Bernard Aurenche, country representative of Prisoners Without Borders, a French NGO, tells IPS.

He explains that the 150 prisoners are backed by trained agronomists. Participants in the project will deepen their agricultural knowledge and will be paid 300 CFA (about 70 cents) per day for work.

“This will allow them to collect money to grow their own crops once they leave. It is also about reinsertion into real life. And getting confidence.”

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

One of the tractors that Prisoners Without Borders has bought for the Saliakro Farm project in Côte d’Ivoire. Learning to use modern machinery was an important step in the programme. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Kouamé is more realistic. He was a farmer before, but tells IPS that he has learned much from the agronomists here. “I have learnt here many things that will make my farm more profitable, notably by diversifying production.”

But the road is still bumpy. Funding, which has been provided by the European Union, now needs to be secured for a longer term. And still, a better selection process of prisoners needs to be found as, so far, selection of participants was not based on any clear criteria.

But prison superintendent Ouattara, who also manages the Dimbokro Prison a few kilometres from Saliakro, is positive.

“It is the beginning. We will need to adjust. But we strongly believe that there will be a positive outcome for those men. Much more than leaving them by themselves doing nothing.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Politics Complicates Education in Lebanon’s Refugee Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/politics-complicates-education-in-lebanons-refugee-camps/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 09:20:38 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135870 Syrian refugee schoolchildren being taught in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian refugee schoolchildren being taught in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
BEIRUT, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

The Shatila Palestinian camp has no library, nor does adjacent Sabra or Ain El-Hilweh in the south. And, after recent statements by Lebanon’s foreign minister, some fear that the thousands of Syrian refugee children within them will soon have even slimmer chances of learning to read and write.

The United Nations stated earlier last month that Syrian refugees would total over one-third of Lebanon’s population by the end of 2014, and that at least 300,000 refugee children were not enrolled in school.

In early July, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that no assistance should be given to Syrian refugees as “all this aid – be it food, shelter or health care – encourages Syrian refugees to stay in Lebanon, while what we want is to encourage their speedy exit.”“The overcrowded breezeblock camps are filled with school-age children from across the [Lebanese-Syrian] border, suffering from psychosocial disorders, nutritional problems and limited possibilities for enrolling in Lebanese educational institutes

During his time as energy minister in the previous government, Bassil had said that Syrians should be seen as a “threat to the safety, economy and identity of the country.”

Tangled electrical wires droop dangerously low and posters of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad are prominent alongside those of Palestinian ‘resistance’ leaders and ‘martyrs’ in the Lebanese capital’s camps, where refugees are said to have initially been welcomed.

Lebanon’s security forces do not enter the 12 officially registered Palestinian camps in the country despite withdrawal from a 1969 agreement granting the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) control over them.

Several Syrians told IPS they feel more comfortable there than they would in areas controlled by Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian regime and whose political wing is part of the government.

With 10,000-20,000 having arrived since the conflict began, refugees from Syria now outnumber the original inhabitants of Beirut’s Shatila camp, set up in 1949 to shelter stateless Palestinians.

The overcrowded breezeblock camps are filled with school-age children from across the border, suffering from psychosocial disorders, nutritional problems and limited possibilities for enrolling in Lebanese educational institutes.

There than the capacity of the public school system capacity, the most obvious hurdle for refugee children, says Fadi Hallisso, co-founder and general manager of the Syrian-run NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh which works in the camp, is that Syrian public schools teach in Arabic while their Lebanese counterparts use either French or English.

Destitute or missing parents leading to the need to work or beg to survive, transport costs and war-induced trauma are other factors at play, and the problem is compounded by nutritional deficiencies.

A UNICEF study found earlier this year that severe acute malnutrition had doubled in certain parts of the country between 2012 and 2013. It noted that almost 2,000 children under the age of five were at risk of dying if they did not receive immediate treatment, while even milder states of malnutrition stunt children’s physical and mental growth.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh has set up a school in Shatila for about 300 students using the Lebanese curriculum taught by Syrians and Palestinians, who are paid between 400 and 700 dollars a month, according to Hallisso, “which no Lebanese teacher would be willing to work for.”

The facilities have been newly renovated and are in a building with a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic and dispensary on the second floor.

The organisation is trying to get funding for a small library where the children can come, read, consult reference works, use computers and find a space open to them with generator-powered electricity.

Maria Minkara, who works with Hallisso, told IPS that it would be open to both Palestinian and Syrian schoolchildren and that not a single library exists in the entire area housing tens of thousands of inhabitants.

Many of the children, she noted, live in dark, unhealthy environments, cut off from the power grid with no physical space in which to study. A walk through the crowded camps makes this obvious.

The Joint Christian Committee for Social Service in Lebanon, another organisation working with refugees, recently succeeded in obtaining permission for about 120 Syrian refugee children from its school in the Ain El-Hilweh camp near Sidon to return to Damascus for their 9th grade and Baccalaureate exams, Executive Director Sylvia Haddad told IPS. Over 83 percent of them passed, she said.

Haddad admitted that several students’ families had refused to allow their children to go back to Syria out of fear of the regime, but said that “’they are regretting that decision very much now.”

Stressing that all politics and religion were kept out of the instruction of refugee children, Haddad said that questions on the curriculum being used by the group were referred to Abu Hassan, a Palestinian inhabitant of the camp who in the manner of militia fighters in the region uses an alias preceded by ‘Abu’ (‘father of’).

Abu Hassan said he had fought in the Palestinian ‘resistance’ in the past but declined to say with which faction, and denied that any pro-regime rhetoric was contained in the textbooks.

Abu Hassan was allowed to accompany the students to Damascus and back, but recent changes in Lebanese law make it harder for Palestinians fleeing Syria to enter Lebanon. Amnesty International published a report last month denouncing the restrictions, which require ‘pre-authorisation’ from the government or a residency permit.

Regulations regarding Syrian refugees also changed at the beginning of June, limiting entry to those coming from areas near the Lebanese border where fighting is under way and stipulating that refugees who cross back into Syria forfeit the right to return.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cash Transfers Drive Human Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cash-transfers-drive-human-development-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:49:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135850 The Morro de Vidigal favela in Río de Janeiro. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

The Morro de Vidigal favela in Río de Janeiro. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

Every day, Celina Maria de Souza rises before dawn, and after taking four of her children to the nearby school she climbs down the 180 steps that separate her home on a steep hill from the flat part of this Brazilian city, to go to her job as a domestic. In the evening she makes the long trek back up.

For 25 years, Souza has lived at the top of the Morro Vidigal favela or shantytown, located in the middle of one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro.

In this favela, home to some 10,000 people, the houses, many built by the families themselves, are squashed between the sea and a mountain.

Originally from Ubaitaba, a town in the northeast state of Bahia1,000 km north of Rio de Janeiro, Souza, 44, left her family when she was just 17 to follow her dream of a better life in the big city.

She was part of the decades-long massive wave of people fleeing drought in the impoverished Northeast to make a living in the more industrialised south.

“I’m tired of living in the favela,” she complained to IPS. “I dream of one day having a house with a room for each of my kids. I tell them to be responsible and to study so they won’t suffer later. I wish I could go back to school, but it’s hard for me to find the time.”

Souza, a mother of six children between the ages of 12 and 23 – the oldest two have moved out – has a monthly income of around 450 dollars a month.“This money helps me a lot. They criticise it, saying it’s charity, but I don’t see it like that. You have to work too. With the Bolsa money, I buy school supplies, food, and clothes and shoes for my children. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a huge help.” - Celina Maria de Souza

Nearly half of that comes from Bolsa Familia, a cash transfer programme created by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) when he first became president and continued by his successor Dilma Rousseff.

In 2013 Bolsa Familia reached its 10th anniversary as the leading social programme in this country of 200 million people.

It benefits 13.8 million families, equivalent to 50 million individuals – precisely the number of people who have been pulled out of extreme poverty over the last decade.

But 21.1 million Brazilians are still extremely poor, according to the latest official figures, from 2012.

The International Social Security Association (ISSA), based in Switzerland, granted a prize to Bolsa Familia in October for its contribution to the fight against poverty and support for the rights of the most vulnerable.

According to ISSA, it is the world’s largest cash transfer scheme, with a cost of just 0.5 percent of Brazil’s GDP. The programme’s 2013 budget was 10.7 billion dollars, and it is currently part of the Brasil Sem Miséria (Brazil Without Poverty) umbrella programme.

“I had heard of it and they told me it was a subsidy that the government gave kids who were enrolled in school and vaccinated regularly. We were really doing badly, we didn’t even have enough to eat,” Souza said.

For over a decade, her children have benefited from Bolsa Familia. The family initially received a total of just 40 dollars, but the amount has steadily increased. Souza, who has been married twice, has raised her children alone since breaking up with her second husband.

“This money helps me a lot,” she said. “They criticise it, saying it’s charity, but I don’t see it like that. You have to work too. With the Bolsa money, I buy school supplies, food, and clothes and shoes for my children. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a huge help.”

Souza hasn’t forgotten the days when she went hungry, or the occasional nights when she had no roof over her head – both she and her two older children, when she separated from her first husband. “I told my children: eat, because just seeing you get some food nourishes me,” she said. Now she and the four children still at home live in a crowded two-room house.

The residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, many of which are built on steep hillsides, climb up and down long stairways every day like this one in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, many of which are built on steep hillsides, climb up and down long stairways every day like this one in the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Souza, who had very little formal schooling, works mainly in the informal sector, although when she first came to the city she found a job in a women’s accessories factory. She is constantly battling poverty, and hopes that her children will have better opportunities.

She is one of the innumerable examples of Brazilians who are trying to improve the lives of their families, while this country attempts to revert years of neglect and a historical lag in human development.

Thanks to this effort, South America’s giant has moved up on the Human Development Index (HDI).

In the latest HDI report, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Jul. 24, Brazil ranked 79 among the 187 countries covered.

But in Latin America, Brazil is behind Chile (41), Cuba (44), Argentina (49), Uruguay (50), Panama (65), Venezuela (67), Costa Rica (68) and Mexico (71).

Andréa Bolzon, coordinator of the Atlas of Human Development in Brazil, told IPS that the country has made significant progress in the last 20 years.

The Atlas draws up Brazil’s contribution to the Human Development Report, which includes the HDI. The theme of this year’s report was Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience.

Underlying the improvement, she said, “are policies that were implemented, like the increase in the minimum salary, affirmative action measures to reduce racial inequality, the boost to employment and Bolsa Familia itself.”

The HDI, created in 1980, is a measure derived from life expectancy, education levels and incomes. In 2013, life expectancy in Brazil averaged 73.9 years, schooling averaged 7.2 years, and gross national income per capita was 14,275 dollars.

Between 1980 and 2013, Brazil’s HDI value increased 36.4 percent. In 1980 life expectancy was 62.7 years, schooling averaged 2.6 years and GNI per capita was 9,154 dollars.

“Brazil is one of the countries whose human development has improved the most over the past 30 years,” said UNDP representative in Brazil Jorge Chediek during the presentation of the data in Brasilia.

But inequality is still a huge problem in Brazil, Bolzon said. “We have to invest in universal quality public systems, especially in health and education, because they have effects on other indicators.”

The increase in the years of schooling among families is precisely one visible change, she said.

“We see it from generation to generation in the same family,” she said. “People who studied very little have children who have more years of schooling; there is a big difference in terms of education.”

Souza and her family fit that pattern: she has a fifth grade education, while her 12-year-old daughter is in sixth grade today.

“I studied very little; I had to drop out when I was 12 to work, because I had to help my parents put food on the table,” said Souza. “I want my kids to have much more than I had – a good education and good jobs.”

Isis, her youngest daughter, knows all about the difficulties her mother has faced and the sacrifices she makes in order for them to have a better life. “I love going to school, and I love math. When I come home, I help my mom and I tidy up the house. My mom tells us to study a lot to have a better futrue. I know what her life has been like, and I do that,” she told IPS with a smile.

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Cameroon’s Muslim Clerics Turn to Education to Shun Boko Haramhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 08:34:44 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135844 Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

Motari Hamissou used to get along well with his pupils at the government primary school in Sabga, an area in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s North West Region.

In the past, Hamissou also lived in peace with his neighbours. No one was bothered by his long, thick beard or the veil his wife, Aisha Hamissou, wore, or the religion they followed.

According to the 2010 general population census, Muslims constitute 24 percent of this Central African nation’s 21 million people, most of whom live in Cameroon’s Far North, North and Adamawa Regions; all on the border with Nigeria. Cameroon’s north western boarder runs along the length of Nigeria’s eastern boarder, stretching all the way to Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north — a stronghold of the Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram.

But the intermittent attacks and abductions perpetrated by Boko Haram in Cameroon’s North West Region has destroyed the peace and accord that Hamissou enjoyed with his pupils and neighbours.

The most recent attack by the group was on Jul. 27 when the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali was kidnapped in the northern town of Kolofata. The group is said to have increased its attacks from Nigeria into neighbouring Cameroon. Since the group first took up arms five years ago for a Muslim state in Nigeria, more than, some 12,000 people in that West African nation have died in the crisis, according to figures from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Now Hamissou’s own pupils call him “Boko Haram” in reference to the group. The name, Boko Haram, means “Western education is a sin” in the local Nigerian dialect, Hausa.

“They see our beards or the veils our wives [wear] and immediately link us to the sect,” Hamissou tells IPS.

“I am a teacher. I teach Western education. How can I teach Western education and at the same time say that it is forbidden? That’s incomprehensible,” he adds.

Arlette Dainadi, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who attends the same primary school that Hamissou teaches at, tells IPS some of her peers have gone as far as taking off her veil and shouting: “Boko Haram! Boko Haram!”

Aisha Hamissou tells IPS that even adults have taken to name-calling.

“I can’t move and interact freely with other people without being called names. People call me Boko Haram,” she explains, almost bursting into tears.

In a concerted effort to distance themselves from the extremist group, Muslim groups and leaders in Cameroon, including the Association of Muslim Students and the Cameroon Council of Imams, have been organising workshops, seminars and public demonstrations to sensitise the general public about their stance against the extremist sect.

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, tells IPS that Boko Haram’s campaign against Western education, as well as the atrocities it exacts on innocent people, has nothing to do with Islam.

“Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Departing from these precepts is actually against Islam,” he says.

Members of the Cameroon Council of Imams and Muslim leaders have embraced “Boko Halal”,”an Hausa idiomatic expression which means education is allowed or permitted as contained in the Quran.

Islamic teacher and religious leader Sheik Abu Oumar Bin Ali tells IPS that Muslim scholars have been major drivers of education.

“Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a leading Muslim scholar who founded the branch of mathematics known as algebra… So it’s stupid for anyone to link Muslim with a hatred for Western education,” he says.

But Ahmadou Moustapha, a traditional Muslim ruler in Cameroon’s Far North Region, tells IPS that Boko Haram has definitely been recruiting young Muslims in the region.

“They come here and forcefully whisk away our young people,” Moustapha explains.

“I believe they go and intoxicate them with their hate beliefs.”

According to Professor Souaibou Issa, from the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon’s Adamawa Region, the group is even more dangerous because “you never know what their linkages are, you don’t know what exactly their focus is, and you don’t know who the actors are. There is widespread suspicion, and the states are fighting invisible enemies.”

Mallam Djibring called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant and report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals.

Editing by: Nalisha Adams

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China’s ‘Left-Behind Girls’ Learn Self-Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:15:58 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135833 As part of student sexual safety training at Yindian Central Primary School, in Suizhou, central China, a six-year-old girl learns how to identify private parts on human bodies. Credit: Xinyu Zhang courtesy/UN Women

As part of student sexual safety training at Yindian Central Primary School, in Suizhou, central China, a six-year-old girl learns how to identify private parts on human bodies. Credit: Xinyu Zhang courtesy/UN Women

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

A normally quiet second-grade student, Yuan Yuan* suffers from a mild mental disorder that impacts her ability to learn and communicate. Her father, also mentally disabled, left her several years ago to find work in the city and his family hasn’t heard from him since. Unable to support the family, her mother also left and never returned.

Yuan Yuan’s paternal grandparents have been caring for her since. But they are not always there.

“I am scared of that man… he laughed at me and touched me. I don’t like him,” eight-year-old Yuan Yuan admitted during a visit from Zhang Xinyu, a programme officer with the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women (BCDC), after a local Women’s Federation referred her complaint that a 70-year-old neighbour had sexually assaulted her.

In Yuan Yuan’s case, BCDC paid for her medical treatment and worked together with the local Women’s Federation to ensure they could respond and prevent any further attempts of the neighbour to access the child.

Yuan Yuan is among more than 2,500 girls being helped by a programme funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is managed by UN Women on behalf of the U.N. system

The programme has brought together teachers, guardians, local police officers and health-care providers to protect China’s “left-behind girls”.

China’s rapid economic growth, driven by manufacturing industries on the eastern side of the country, combined with high unemployment and low wages in the central and western regions have driven China’s incredible internal migration of an estimated two million people moving from the rural countryside to its industrial cities.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade.
In many cases, parents are compelled to migrate to the cities without their children because of the hukou (household registration) system, which stipulates that children access public schooling only in their home town or village.

According to a 2012 report by the All-China Women’s Federation, the number of left-behind children totals over 61 million, with the number of girls totaling over 28 million.

Close to 33 per cent of all left-behind children are raised by their grandparents, while 10.7 per cent are raised by other villagers or relatives, and at least 3.4 per cent are forced to fend for themselves.

In addition to funds, the UN Trust Fund, UN Women provides technical assistance to BCDC on reducing the risk of sexual violence against rural children, with a particular focus on girls whose parents have migrated to the cities. The programme seeks to increase girls’ sexual knowledge and self-protection; ensure that both guardians and the community are willing and able to provide the guidance needed to reduce their vulnerability to sexual abuse; and to alter the social environment that promotes sexual violence and empower women and girls.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade. She says she was very proud that she could share a training manual and her learned self-protection skills with her siblings. “My older sister said to me that she was very shy and never had this information in the past.”

By the end of 2013, 500 local teachers, 5,000 students and 2,200 guardians had participated in training programmes on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and 210 ‘backbones’ – women and men leaders active in the community – had participated in trainings on the dangers of child sexual abuse.

The programme implemented by BCDC has set up six resource centres (three community-based and three in schools) to protect children and prevent sexual violence.

In villages, they establish managerial groups and in schools, teachers organise activities around the themes of left-behind girls’ safety, such as reading activities, lectures and performances to raise awareness of prevention of child sexual abuse.

Furthermore, with the funding from the UN Trust Fund, technical support from UN Women and national experts, a series of handbooks on girls’ safety education, covering everything from knowledge about sex and sexual abuse to gender-based violence, were produced and disseminated.

Shen Xiaoyan, a primary school teacher in Suizhou, a city in central China, recalls a remark by a colleague when she was preparing a presentation for a student sexual safety training in 2013: “These things [sexual education materials] appear so normal to me [now]. Why did I feel embarrassed about them only a few years ago?”

The programme has changed attitudes and removed barriers of silence, with several stakeholders reporting cases of sexual abuse.

“After training and project activities, local residents and government officials have become willing to seek out all possible resources to help victims of child sexual abuse,” said the BCDC’s Xinyu.

“In the past, this kind of information was considered secret, deterring victims and family from revealing it to other people.”

In a testament to the growing attention to the plight of left-behind children and the sexual abuse against left-behind girls, proposals influenced by the programme were submitted in 2012 by the Women’s Federation to the People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Suizhou.

In 2013, the Educational Department in Suizhou issued a policy document requiring the strengthening of safety education for students in all primary and middle schools.

(END)

*Name changed to protect her identity.

Beijing20Logoen png

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, check out the In Focus editorial package on The Girl Child on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

 

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Food – Thou Shall Not Wastehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-thou-shall-not-waste-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-thou-shall-not-waste-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-thou-shall-not-waste-2/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:34:49 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135788 Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

“Only two years ago, the soup kitchen was serving 50 meals a day. Today the number has almost doubled and, what is even more worrying, we have started receiving families with children,” says Donatella Turri, director of the Caritas Diocese of Lucca.

The paradox is that the lengthening queues at the Lucca soup kitchen come against a backdrop of increasing food loss and waste.

Turri has no doubts concerning the impact of the current economic crisis on Italian families in terms of food security – “we call it ‘poverty of the third week’.”If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be 'thou shall not waste' – Andrea Segré, President of Last Minute Market

“It means that the poor are no longer the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug addicts. More and more often we get requests for primary goods from families that simply cannot reach the end of the month with their salaries,” she told IPS.

Turri’s claims are confirmed at the national level by the yearly Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) report on poverty. According to the survey, absolute poverty [the threshold below which a family cannot afford the goods and services that are essential to guarantee a barely acceptable standard of living] has maintained its steady increase in recent years, rising from 4.6 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent in 2013.

“The traditional distinction between the quantitative aspect of food security being typical of developing countries, and the qualitative one being a concern of the industrialised world, is fading away,” Andrea Segré, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Bologna University and President of Last Minute Market, a company that recovers unsold or non-marketable goods in favour of charity organisations, told IPS.

However, while access to food is also becoming increasingly difficult for the low-income class of developed countries, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Europe, North America and Oceania are top of the world’s food wasting classification, with a per capita food loss of almost 300 kg per year in North America.

“Food loss and waste are dependent on specific conditions and local circumstances,” Eliana Haberkon from FAO’s Office for Communications, Partnerships and Advocacy, explained to IPS.

“In low-income countries, food loss is mainly connected to managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging, etc. … and food waste is expected to constitute a growing problem due to undergoing food system changes and due to factors such as expansion of supermarket chains and changes in diets and lifestyle.”

Currently, the biggest gap between rich and poor nations remains the quantity of food wasted at the consumer level. According to FAO figures, Europeans and North-Americans waste between 95 to 115 kg of food per capita every year, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia the number drops down to only 6 to 11 kg a year.

At the beginning of July, Last Minute Market, in cooperation with the SWG survey company, published a report called ‘Waste Watcher’. Using a complex questionnaire survey among Italian consumers, the outcomes paint a comprehensive picture of the social dynamics and behaviour of families that lead to food waste.

“The overall waste of food in Italy is worth 8.1 billion euro every year, and most of it comes from our houses. The rest of the losses, in agriculture, industries, distribution and service, can be recovered, but it is much less significant than what we throw in our bins,” said Segrè, commenting on the survey results.

Last Minute Market is now working to prepare the ground for a discussion on food waste during EXPO 2015, which will take place in under the heading ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life’.

“In order to be credible, EXPO needs to take into account the issue of food waste,” said Segré. “If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be thou shall not waste.”

Indeed, as Haberon explained, the consequences of food loss and waste stretch far beyond their monetary value, “affecting current use and future availability and causing unnecessary pressure on natural resources.”

Studies by FAO estimated a yearly global quantitative food loss and waste of 30 percent of cereals, 40-50 percent of food crops (fruits and vegetables), 25 percent of oil seeds, meat and dairy products and 30 percent of fish.

Both Last Minute Market and Caritas agree on the paramount role of education in tackling food waste. In cooperation with more than ten local primary schools, the Caritas Diocese of Lucca has managed to recover excess food intact from school canteens for a value of 40,000 euro, taking it to the soup kitchens it manages.

This initiative has allowed it to develop a parallel food education project with the children of the schools involved.

“We obviously need normative support to help us reduce food waste, but first of all we must re-introduce food education, starting from primary schools,” said Segrè. “The current generation has completely lost the value of food and we must get it back.”

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