Inter Press Service » Development & Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 07 Jul 2015 23:58:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Q&A: “Climate Change is About Much More Than Temperature”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 23:58:16 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141475 Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), addressing the opening session of the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference Paris, Jul. 7-10. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), addressing the opening session of the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference Paris, Jul. 7-10. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PARIS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The cost of inaction is high when it comes to climate change and, so far, countries’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not enough, says Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

In an exclusive interview with IPS during the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference being held in Paris (Jul. 7-10) at UNESCO headquarters, Jarraud said that “we need more ambitious commitments before getting to Paris” for the U.N. Climate Conference in December, adding that climate change should be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently being worked out.

“Climate change is about much more than temperature,” he added.

Q:  Will this scientific meeting help to build the path towards a solid Conference of the Parties (COP21) agreement in Paris December?

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

A:  Every six years the scientific community reviews the state of knowledge about climate and this is what we call the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessment report. The latest report was finalised a year ago, so in order to prepare for the next COP in Paris it was important to update it so that decision makers and negotiators have access to the very latest information. One of the roles of this conference is to get scientists together and also get a closer interaction between scientists and decision makers.

Q:  Do you think a Paris deal will be possible as a way of braking global warming?

A:  We have to look at it as a process. Many people remember Copenhagen in 2009 and say it was a failure but it was a place where the 2°C objective was set up. Every COP is going one step further in defining the objectives but also addressing solutions.

What is going to be decided in Paris is hopefully an ambitious plan to reduce significantly the emissions of GHGs and what will be reduced over the next 20, 30 and 40 years.

Countries were asked to pledge what they are willing to do and over which time scales. So far the pledges are not enough for 2°C but we hope this will accelerate. We can see countries are coming on board with significant commitment. We hope that in Paris we will be as close as possible to this objective. I am confident there will be progress.“You cannot have any sustainable development if you don’t take into account climate damage” – Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General

Q:  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are not enough to meet the world’s target.

A:  At this stage the INDCs are not yet enough. He [Ban Ki-moon] says to member states that we need more ambitious commitment before Paris. We still have time, we still need to accelerate and go further. China has recently announced its commitment. If we don’t get enough in Paris to stand at 2°C, it means we will have to reduce [emissions] further and faster afterwards.

Q:  You have said there is an “adaptation gap”: In which way?

A:  There are two facets of the climate negotiations and one is what we call mitigation. It is important to reduce GHG emissions as much as possible and as fast as possible so that we minimise the amplitude of the climate change.

As a number of GHGs have already been in the atmosphere for a long time, it means we already committed to some amount of global warming. Therefore we need to adapt to the consequences such as sea level rise, impact on crops, on health and on extreme weather events.

Developed and developing countries don’t have the same financial, human and technical capacity to adapt. How can we bridge this gap by making sure there are appropriate technology transfer and financing mechanisms? This is one of the difficult parts of the negotiations. We need to address that as a priority.

Q:  Is the Green Climate Fund (GCF) enough to fill the finance gap?

A:  The fund has had a pledge of over 10 billion dollars. The objective by 2020 is to reach a funding stream of about 100 billion dollars per year. We are still in the early phase of that and hopefully in Paris there will be an acceleration towards identifying possible sources of financing.

The key is to see this finance not as an expense but as an investment. The cost of doing nothing will be more than acting. On a longer time scale, the cost of inaction is actually bigger, and we and maybe our children and grandchildren will have to pay more later.

Q:  What are the main concerns of scientists regarding the impacts of climate change worldwide?

A:  It is about much more than temperature. It impacts the hydrological cycle – for example, more precipitation in places where there is a lot already, less in places that are very dry. It will amplify this water cycle, so the regions that are already under water stress will have more droughts and heat waves and, vice-versa, there will be more floods in regions that already have too much water. There will be an impact on extreme weather events, like heat waves which are becoming more frequent and intense, and tropical cyclones and typhoons.

Q: Is there any particular region in the world about which climatologists are most concerned?

A:  Extreme events can set the clock of development back in several years. Sea level rise in small islands is a very big concern in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as coastal areas. In countries with big deltas like the Nile or in Bangladesh, sea level rise will increase the vulnerability of these countries enormously.

Elsewhere, the risk of desertification will increase in several sub-Saharan regions, some parts of Latin America, Central Asia and around the Mediterranean basin. Many countries will be affected in different ways. Temperature is only part of the equation, because the increase of the 2°C will not be uniform. The warming will be higher over continents and oceans, it will be greater at higher altitudes.

One of the challenges is to translate this large-scale global scenario for regional and national levels. It is still a scientific challenge.

Q:  Should climate change be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

A: You cannot have any sustainable development if you don’t take into account climate damage. What is being proposed right now for the SDGs is that climate is a factor that should be considered for almost all the individual proposed goals.

Q:  Is there a disconnection between science and policy-making when it comes to climate change?

A:  Yes, but less than there used to be. Decision-makers are taking the information provided by scientists more seriously. This is based on the fact that the scientific consensus is huge. There are still a few sceptics but essentially the scientific community is almost unanimous.

Most scientific questions have now a clear answer. Is climate changing? Yes, without any doubt. Is it due to human activities? Yes, with a probability of more than 95 percent. However there are still a few other questions that require more scientific research. The knowledge base is incredibly solid but we want to understand more and go even further.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Social Safety Net Not Wide Enough to Protect World’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:50:50 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141473 By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-five percent of the world’s poor still have limited protection from hunger and economic, social or political crises despite expansion of social safety programmes in developing countries in recent years.

According to a report released by the World Bank on Jul. 7, most of the poor without a social safety net system are in lower-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s poor reside.

In these countries, safety schemes like cash transfers and school feeding programmes only cover 25 percent of the extreme poor, compared to 64-percent coverage in upper-middle-income countries.

Existing social welfare mechanisms are insufficient to close the poverty gap, leaving approximately 773 million people struggling to survive, experts say.

The report, the second in a series, was released following the World Bank Group and International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) announcement of their goals to provide universal social protection within the next 15 years.

A joint statement released by the two organisations on Jun.30 cited universal coverage and access to social protection as twin goals by 2030.

“The World Bank Group and the ILO share a vision of social protection for all, a world where anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time,” according to the joint statement by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, and Guy Ryder, executive director of the ILO.

“The new development agenda that is being defined by the world community – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – provides an unparalleled opportunity for our two institutions to join forces to make universal social protection a reality, for everyone, everywhere.”

The report comes just ahead of the United Nations’ third Financing for Development (FfD) conference scheduled to take place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next week, where world leaders will discuss plans for funding the post-2015 development agenda, due to be launched in September.

The issue of providing universal social protection is slated to be at the centre of the agenda.

The five largest social safety programmes in the world are in China, India, South Africa and Ethiopia, where regular assistance reaches a combined total of 526 million people.

According to the report, all countries have at least one type of social security scheme, while the average developing country has about 20 such programmes. Globally, approximately 1.9 billion people benefit from these mechanisms.

On average, low-middle-income countries devote 1.6 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to these mechanisms, while richer countries devote 1.9 percent of their earnings to social programmes.

The World Bank reports that poor policy choices lie at the heart of inefficiencies in adequately providing for the poor. Fuel and electricity subsidies, for instance, reduce the portion of government spending allocated to social spending. These regressive subsidies disproportionately benefit the rich.

For example, Yemen spends nine percent of its GDP on energy and electricity subsidies, compared to the three percent it spends on social security net programs. The country, engulfed in political turmoil for the past few years, is already one of the poorest countries in the Arab World with up to 54.5 percent of its population living in poverty.

As developed countries like the United States and the European Union grapple with the balance between providing social security and maintaining economic growth in the slumping economy, developing countries have expanded their safety nets in a bid to reduce poverty.

Cash transfer programmes, recommended by the report as the most effective method, has “positive spillover effects on the local economy.” For each dollar transferred, the total income of the beneficiary increases from 1.08 dollars to 2.52 dollars.

“There is a strong body of evidence that these programmes ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s senior director for social protection and labour.

“Going forward, more can be done to close the coverage gap and reach the world’s poorest by improving the effectiveness of these programmes underpinned by enhanced targeting, improved policy coherence, better administrative integration, and application of technologies.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141462 Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141467 The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Books, Not Bullets,” Malala Yousafzai Urges at Oslo Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/books-not-bullets-malala-yousafzai-urges-at-oslo-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=books-not-bullets-malala-yousafzai-urges-at-oslo-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/books-not-bullets-malala-yousafzai-urges-at-oslo-summit/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:06:34 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141470 By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai spoke Tuesday of her mission to bring 12 years of education to all children, rather than the previous goal of nine years, at the final day of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development.

At the July 6-7 summit, global leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the crisis of 59 million out of school children in the world.

Yousafzai said she believes that when it comes to the policy decisions being made in education, they need to be backed by goals which aim higher.

“If nine years of education is not enough for your children, then it is not enough for the rest of the world’s children,” Yousafzai told attendees.

She disputed the idea that there are not enough resources, urging some of the money invested in war to be shifted to education.

“Thirty-nine billion dollars is spent on [the world’s militaries] in only eight days,” she noted.

If developing countries devoted 6 per cent of their gross domestic product to education, it would take eight days of military spending a year to successfully put all children in school by 2030.

This funding is not only necessary to bring children into school, it is also desperately needed to enhance the quality of their education, as summit participants discussed Brigi Rafini, Prime Minister of the Republic of Niger, claimed that an education without quality is worse than no education at all.

The three important linkages which enhance the quality of education, as agreed by both President of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency Akihiko Tamaka, and the Secretary General of Education International Fred Van Leeuwen, are quality of teaching, quality of the curriculum, lessons and assessments, and quality of community and environment.

Improving teacher training was brought up multiple times throughout the summit. Tamaka stated that teachers are the core of education and they need to be encouraged to continue learning. Overall, valuing the profession of teaching was given great importance at the summit, keeping in mind that many violent attacks at schools are aimed at teachers.

Regarding curriculum, the lack of textbooks in languages which children understand was stressed as an important issue. According to the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), students from minority communities are often pushed out of education because the language of instruction is not their own.

The importance of funding for education, various options and complex realities articulated by this summit will lead the decisions made at the upcoming International Financing for Development Conference, which begins July 13 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hopefully increasing the percentage of humanitarian aid which is spent on education to much more than the current 1.7 per cent.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ebola Recovery Focuses on Strengthening Africa’s Health Systemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 20:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141465 Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing delegates in a run-up to an international Ebola recovery conference, said last month that “all of the investments, all of the sacrifices and all of the risks by relief workers” would be squandered if an outbreak of the disease recurs.

And it did – in Liberia, a country which had been declared free of the Ebola virus."The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse." -- Dr. Matshidiso Moeti

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which made that declaration on May 9, confirmed that a 17-year-old Liberian who died of Ebola last week had been in contact with nearly 200 people possibly triggering the spread of the infection.

As of last week, more than 27,100 people were affected by the highly contagious disease, which killed over 11,100, mostly in three African countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations is hosting a high-level international Ebola Recovery Conference July 10, primarily to provide a platform for the three countries to share their recovery plans and, more importantly, to raise funds to continue the fight against the disease and also strengthen health care systems in the region.

Nicolas Douillet of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Africa told IPS the conference aims to mobilise the international community in support of the three countries.

The total needs identified by the three countries, and regionally, by the Mano River Union, he said, amount to 7.2 billion dollars for the next 24 months – 3.2 billion for the three countries and 4.0 billion for the Mano River Union, an Intergovernmental Institution comprising Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

The total requested, however, is 9.0 billion dollars, of which 1.8 billion is already committed, leaving a financing gap of 7.2 billion dollars.

Speaking of the need for strong health care systems, former U.S. President Bill Clinton told a U.N. meeting last May that severely limited resources were a “staggering burden” – and countries in West Africa were requesting funds to build better and stronger health systems through multi-year plans.

Before the Ebola outbreak, he said, Liberia had just one physician for every 71,000 people. He said Ebola had been in many fundamental ways a “man-made disaster.”

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse,” he warned.

Sarah Edwards, head of Policy & Campaigns at Health Poverty Action, told IPS: “Yes, there certainly needs to be a focus on the longer term need for health systems strengthening at this conference and across the wider Ebola response, and specifically this needs to consider how health systems in Ebola-affected countries can be funded sustainably.”

She said this should include measures to support affected countries to explore the potential for increased tax revenues to fund HSS; take action to stop illicit capital flight; and pay compensation for any health workers trained in affected countries who are now working in the UK.

After a visit to the region last October, Magdy Martínez-Solimán, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, said: “This devastating health crisis is destroying lives and communities. It is also impairing national economies, wiping out livelihoods and basic services, and could undo years of efforts to stabilize West Africa.”

“As we work together to end the outbreak, now is the time to ensure these countries can also continue to function and swiftly get back on their feet,” he added.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, already suffering from some of the lowest levels of human development in the world, had emerged from years of civil conflict and political instability and were starting to make encouraging progress, according to UNDP.

Last September, the United Nations established the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), a single structure that will aim to stop the spread of the disease and prevent it from appearing in unaffected countries, as well as treat and care for the infected.

The UNDP said gross domestic product (GDP) in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has shrunk by two to three percentage points. The countries are now projected to lose a total of 13 billion dollars as a result of Ebola. People’s livelihoods are shrinking from lost wages and decreased productivity.

The participants in Friday’s conference at the United Nations include: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Chair of the African Union (AU), Alpha Condé, President of Guinea; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone.

The meeting is in partnership with the AU, the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The AU will hold its own “International Conference on Africa’s Fight Against Ebola” July 20-21 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Meanwhile the Washington-based ONE campaign said keeping track of pledges and monitoring their disbursement, has proved difficult and – at times – impossible “because of inconsistent, inefficient, and often opaque reporting processes and standards.”

In a white paper released Tuesday, it said: “One of the most fundamental questions asked during a humanitarian crisis is, ‘how much have donors promised to this effort?’

“But in the case of the Ebola outbreak, this question has been incredibly difficult to answer — and that’s a huge problem,” ONE’s Global Health Policy Director Erin Hohlfelder said.

“If we don’t know what has really been pledged and delivered, no one can adequately match promised resources to the needs on the ground. That means gaps cannot be easily identified and we risk losing time, resources, and lives.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: SDGs, FfD and Every Single Dollar in the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-sdgs-ffd-and-every-single-dollar-in-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sdgs-ffd-and-every-single-dollar-in-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-sdgs-ffd-and-every-single-dollar-in-the-world/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 17:15:53 +0000 Paul Ladd and Pedro Conceicao http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141460 The answer to the question “How much money will it take to achieve the new SDGs?” is … drum-roll … every single dollar in the world. Credit: Bindalfrodo/cc by 2.0

The answer to the question “How much money will it take to achieve the new SDGs?” is … drum-roll … every single dollar in the world. Credit: Bindalfrodo/cc by 2.0

By Paul Ladd and Pedro Conceicao
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Ethiopia will host an important meeting on Financing for Development (FfD) Conference next week. One of the most-asked questions is:  How much will it cost us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The question sounds sensible at first glance and flows naturally from our experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).Everything we buy has little impacts across the SDGs. For example, when we buy a shirt we are also ‘buying’ the environmental waste and labour standards used when making that shirt.

The grand MDG deal was that poor nations would focus on reducing poverty and improving governance, in exchange for Official Development Assistance (ODA) that would top up resources mobilised by developing countries themselves.

This ‘gap filling’ logic led to expansive exercises in MDG costing, estimations of how quickly governments could improve their tax take, and campaigns to scale up aid.

Many governments responded, and a great deal of good has been done through development aid: Expanded vaccine programmes, more children in school, cleaner water for more people, and many more less measurable achievements like gradually strengthening institutional capacities.

But as we now move to a different development agenda – one that is more ambitious, complex, integrated and universal – our logic on financing also needs a radical overhaul.

While gap-filling will still be important for some countries with very low tax bases and underfunded challenges (like some communicable diseases), for the majority it will be much more about aligning existing resources.

So the answer to the question “How much money will it take to achieve the new SDGs?” is … drum-roll … every single dollar in the world.

This means that every dollar we spend as consumers should work in the direction of achieving the SDGs and not against them. This includes our spending on clothes, food, and travel.

Everything we buy has little impacts across the SDGs. For example, when we buy a shirt we are also ‘buying’ the environmental waste and labour standards used when making that shirt.

But voluntary action by consumers will not be enough. Companies will also have to play their part.

Some are starting to change their business models realising that building a sustainable business will require a sustainable world. Some are engaging in development impact investment.

But beyond these voluntary actions, governments will need to step up and play the critical role of creating the right incentives and regulations to align actions by all consumers, businesses and investors.

While aligning private finance is the big win, changing how we spend public monies will also require a major overhaul. The classic example is energy: If we continue to subsidise non-renewable energies, we are deliberately and consciously working against the Goals.

Globally, energy subsidies are estimated to reach five trillion dollars this year, approaching 20 percent of GDP in some countries. They are overwhelmingly directed towards fossils fuels.

Energy subsidy reform would increase government revenue globally by three trillion dollars a year, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, and cut premature air pollution deaths by half.

Sometimes incentives, regulation, and fiscal reform are seen as imposing costs. Attention is drawn to these costs by those directly affected, with less attention given to society-wide and long-term benefits.

And many inefficiencies that are staring us in the face can unlock trillions more in gains. For instance, advancing gender equality would directly advance the SDGs and generate economic benefits.

Arguing that aligning existing finance with sustainable development is more important than raising ever more money shouldn’t be interpreted as support for the anti-aid movement. Done well, aid has its place.

Donors should indeed meet their 0.7 percent commitments and make much faster progress on their commitments on improving how aid is done.

But if the Conference in Addis Ababa, scheduled to take place next week, only focuses on mobilizing more money and doesn’t do something about improving how that money is spent, then we will have missed the point, and will certainly miss the grand targets we have set for ourselves. This is why every dollar counts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Commission Issues Blueprint for Low-Carbon Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/climate-commission-issues-blueprint-for-low-carbon-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-commission-issues-blueprint-for-low-carbon-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/climate-commission-issues-blueprint-for-low-carbon-economy/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 10:16:40 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141455 Canada's Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

Canada's Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Up to 96 percent of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to keep global warming below a critical threshold of two degrees C could be achieved through a series of 10 steps, says a new report released by the Global Commission on the Economy and the Climate.

“The low carbon economy is already emerging,” said former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, Chair of the Commission."Africa can ‘leapfrog’ the fossil-fuel based growth strategies of developed countries and become a leader in low-carbon development." -- Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel

“But governments, cities, businesses and investors need to work much more closely together and take advantage of recent developments if the opportunities are to be seized. We cannot let these opportunities slip through our fingers.”

Scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, the upcoming Paris Climate Conference (known as COP21) will, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees C.

It is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, U.N. agencies, NGOs and civil society.

Ahead of the meeting, governments have been submitting their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the U.N. which lay out how they plan to cut emissions and transition to a greener economy.

Last week, China – both the world’s largest emitter and biggest investor in clean energy – vowed to peak its emissions around the year 2030, reduce carbon intensity 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix by about 20 percent by 2030.

But other industrialised countries and/or major emitters are lagging behind in their pledges.

“We know that the current INDC pledges are not likely to get us to the two degree C world we need. But this report shows there is significant room for stronger action that is in countries’ economic self-interest,” said Michael Jacobs, Report Director, New Climate Economy.

Jacobs told IPS that the best case scenario at COP21 would be “an agreement with universal participation – all countries- which includes a long-term goal to reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions to zero or near-zero in the second half of the century.”

He also hoped to see “a regular five-yearly cycle of commitments in which countries strengthen their mitigation and adaptation targets, with this year’s INDCs being seen as ‘floors not ceilings’ to national ambition, able to be raised later.”

In addition, a successful agreement would include a strong package of financial and technology support for developing countries, for both adaptation and mitigation, a requirement on all countries to produce national adaptation plans, and a robust system of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

“A worst-case scenario?” Jacobs said. “No agreement. This could still happen.”

​The commission urges that at least 1.0 trillion dollars goal be invested in renewable energy by 2030.

This could be achieved if governments put in place strong policy and regulatory frameworks to incentivise clean energy (such as feed-in tariffs and robust power purchase agreements), and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and introduce carbon pricing.

It says that international and national development banks should work closely with governments and the private sector to reduce the cost of capital through risk mitigation instruments and to develop pipelines of bankable projects, and institutional investors, international banks and sovereign wealth funds should commit to increasing financing of renewables and to reduce coal financing.

“The findings of this report, combined with those of the recent Africa Progress Report, prove that there are immense opportunities in the emerging low-carbon economy,” said Trevor Manuel, Former Minister and Chairperson of the South African Planning Commission.

“Africa can ‘leapfrog’ the fossil-fuel based growth strategies of developed countries and become a leader in low-carbon development, exploiting its abundant – and currently under-utilised – renewable energy resources.”

The Commission’s recommendations include:

Scaling up partnerships between cities, like the Compact of Mayors, to drive low-carbon urban development. Key aspects are investment in public transport, building efficiency, and better waste management. It says such measures could save around 17 trillion dollars globally by 2050.

Enhancing partnerships such as the deforestation programme REDD+, the 20×20 Initiative in Latin America, and the Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance to bring together forest countries, developed economies and the private sector to halt deforestation by 2030 and restore degraded farmland. The report says this would boost agricultural productivity and resilience, strengthen food security, and improve livelihoods for agrarian and forest communities.

The G20 should raise energy efficiency standards in the world’s leading economies for goods such as appliances, lighting, and vehicles. Investment in energy efficiency could boost cumulative economic output globally by 18 trillion dollars by 2035.

Cutting emissions from aviation and shipping and from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone could cut emissions by as much as 2.6 gigatonnes in 2030. In shipping alone, higher efficiency standards could save an average of 200 billion dollars in annual fuel costs by 2030.

“2015 is a moment of opportunity to accelerate growth-enhancing climate action. Landmark conferences on development financing, the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], and climate change have the potential to usher in a new era of international cooperation,” said Kristin Skogen Lund, Director-General, Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise.

The New Climate Economy is the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It was established by seven countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as an independent initiative to examine how countries can achieve economic growth while dealing with the risks posed by climate change.

Chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and co-chaired by renowned economist Lord Nicholas Stern, the Commission has 28 leaders from 20 countries, including former heads of government and finance ministers, leading business people, investors, city mayors and economists.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Day One of Oslo Summit Urges Increased Funding for Global Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/day-one-of-oslo-summit-urges-increased-funding-for-global-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=day-one-of-oslo-summit-urges-increased-funding-for-global-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/day-one-of-oslo-summit-urges-increased-funding-for-global-education/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 23:22:46 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141448 Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Primary school children in class, Harar, Ethiopia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

At the first day of the Oslo Summit on Education for Development, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a personal story of his experience during the Korean War, when his family “had to run for the mountains”. He spoke of how he was able to receive textbooks because of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“They taught us more than math and reading,” he said, “They taught us the meaning of global solidarity.”

Coming to the end of the 15-year effort to achieve the United Nations’ eight aspirational poverty-reduction goals named the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has been some progress in achieving the second goal of universal primary education since 2000, with more girls attending school and the net enrollment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa increasing to 80 percent.

However, this progress is slow and not sufficient enough. Increasing financial aid for education in poor countries is critical to meeting this MDG, as new evidence published by UNESCO today shows there is a rising number of out-of-school children (124 million), an issue serious enough to bring hundreds of world leaders to Oslo July 6 and 7.

The leaders are hoping to mobilise more resources for reaching the MDGs and the new sustainable development goals for inclusive and quality education in countries affected by conflict, crisis and poverty.

Today’s sessions in Oslo brought together representatives of governments, organisations, businesses, academia, media, children and teachers to discuss best options, and bring a sense of urgency to the summit.

The main belief of those attending is that education is a human right and a public good, said Ms. Rasheda K. Choudhury, Vice President of the Global Campaign for Education.

Education is not a commodity, Choudhury continues, but a responsibility, and this summit is not taking place as a reminder, rather to help “rethink the strategies” being used.

The discussions highlighted the disparity in education between genders as well as minorities and marginalised groups. Education needs to be considered a life-saving investment in order for more humanitarian efforts and investments, said Hanna Persson, policy officer for gender, education and children at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), an organisation which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

According to the final MDG report, children with mothers who have a secondary education are three times more likely to survive than those without.

Urgency was placed on financing education, and the private sector was discussed as the key resource for partnerships and innovation to reach the education goals.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, urged countries to increase aid.

“While overseas development assistance increased by nine per cent between 2010 and 2013, aid to basic education fell by 22 per cent from 4.5billion dollars to 3.5billion dollars,” he noted in a statement.

Spending on education is 24 dollars per child in the Democratic Republic of Congo and averages 80 dollars per child across the poorest countries, while in developed countries such as Norway, U.K., and the U.S., more than 8,000 dollars per child is spent annually.

The rise in conflicts and natural disasters that have prevented children from attending school was also a main discussion topic at the summit Monday. There have not been this many displaced children since the 1940s, said the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, yet in 2014 less than 1.7 per cent of humanitarian spending was on education.

The United Nations Secretary-General concluded the summit, “When we put every child in school, provide them with quality learning, and foster global citizenship, we will transform our future.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Putting the “Integrity of the Earth’s Ecosystems” at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:22:31 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141446 Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

By 2050, we will be a world of nine billion people. Not only does this mean there’ll be two million more mouths to feed than there are at present, it also means these mouths will be consuming more – in the next 20 years, for instance, an estimated three billion people will enter the middle class, in addition to the 1.8 billion estimated to be within that income bracket today.

These changes are going to put unprecedented pressure on the world’s natural resources, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s International Resource Panel (IRP).

Entitled ‘Policy Coherence of the Sustainable Development Goals: A Natural Resource Perspective’, the report warns that maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems will be critical for the successful realisation of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Unless the new development blueprint is centered on protecting and respecting the earth’s limited bounty, the goals of poverty eradication and ensuring decent lives for current and future generations will fall by the wayside, experts predict.

For instance, IRP studies have shown that annual global extraction increased “by a factor of eight in the 20th century” from seven billion tonnes of material in 1900 to 68 billion tonnes of resources by 2009.

Based on current trends, resource use and extraction could hit 140 billion tonnes by 2050 – three times what was extracted in the year 2000, according to UNEP data.

“Due to declining ore grades, depending on the material concerned, about three times as much material needs to be moved today for the same ore extraction as a century ago, with concomitant increases in land disruption, groundwater implications and energy use,” UNEP said in a press release on Jul. 6.

Meanwhile, pressures on biotic resources are also on the rise, with 20 percent of cultivated land, 30 percent of the world’s forests and 10 percent of its grasslands being degraded at a rate that far outstrips the ability of such earth systems to replenish themselves.

Deterioration of ecosystems also threatens to worsen the impacts of climate change, contribute to water scarcity and exacerbate world hunger, with environmental experts fearing that 25 percent of total global food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of converging land and resource issues.

“The core challenge of achieving the SDGs will be to lift a further one billion people out of absolute poverty and address inequalities, while meeting the resource needs – in terms of energy, land, water, food and material supply – of an estimated eight billion people in 2030,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said Monday.

“The fulfillment of the SDGs in word and spirit will require fundamental shifts in the manner with which humanity views the natural environment in relation to human development,” he added.

Representing over 30 renowned experts and scientists, and as many national governments, the IRP today called for the “prudent management and use of natural resources, given that several Goals are inherently dependent on the achievement of higher resource productivity, ecosystem restoration and resource conservation”.

The report also urged policy makers to introduce practices based on a ‘circular economy’ approach, whereby reusing, recycling and remanufacturing products and other materials reduces waste by “decoupling” natural resource use from economic progress.

While the SDGs represent a bold and wide-reaching framework for ending some of the world’s most pressing problems – among them hunger and extreme poverty – avoiding counter-productive results will depend on a “commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Earth’s systems while addressing the resource demands driven by individual goals,” UNEP experts cautioned.

As the world’s population increases, and more people climb into the ranks of the middle class (defined by increased income and a corresponding rise in consumption), it will become crucial for individuals to adopt consumption patterns – and governments and corporations to adopt production systems – that contribute to human well-being “without putting unsustainable pressures on the environment and natural resources”, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Scepticism, U.N. Hails Its Anti-Poverty Programmehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 21:42:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141443 Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which launched one of its most ambitious anti-poverty development programmes back in 2000, has hailed it as a riveting success story – despite shortcomings.

Launching the final report of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a meeting in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “following profound and consistent gains, we now know that extreme poverty can be eradicated within one more generation.”“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty." -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The MDGs, which are targeted to end this December, “have greatly contributed to this progress, and have taught us how governments, business, and civil society can work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs,” he said.

The United Nations claims it has cut poverty by half. “The world met that goal – and we should be very proud of that achievement,” he added.

But the target for the complete eradication of poverty from the developing world has been set for 2030 under a proposed post-2015 development agenda, including a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be launched at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives, according to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 released Monday.

“Only two short decades ago, nearly half of the developing world lived in extreme poverty. The number of people now living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015,” the study said.

But civil society organisations (CSOs) were sceptical about the claims.

Jens Martens, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (New York/Bonn), told IPS rather bluntly: ”The MDGs are not a success story.”

They reduced the development discourse to a small number of quantitative goals and targets and did not touch the structural framework conditions of development, he said.

Pointing out some of the shortcomings, he said the goal on income poverty has been weak and the threshold of 1.25 dollars per day completely inadequate. Someone with a per capita income of 1.26 dollars is still poor.

“And focusing only on income poverty is not at all sufficient. Governments have to deal with the problems of poverty and inequality in all their dimensions.”

Furthermore, said Martens, the MDGs did not take into account that the consumption and production patterns of the people in the global North, with their impact on climate change and biodiversity, have grave consequences for the survival and living conditions of the people in the global South.

Therefore, it is good news that the new SDGs reflect a much broader development approach, are universal and multidimensional, and contain not only goals for the poor but also goals for the rich, he noted.

Ben Phillips, International Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid, told IPS world leaders cannot fulfil their pledge to end poverty unless they tackle the crisis of the widening gap in wealth and power between the richest and the rest.

Ending poverty by 2030 cannot and should not be only an arithmetic exercise on the basis of very low dollar poverty lines which will not guarantee a life of dignity for all, he said.

“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty,” Phillips said.

Even to get beyond the very low poverty lines they have, however, growth will not be enough if it is not more evenly shared, he said.

“The world can overcome poverty and ensure dignity for all if political leaders find the courage to challenge inequality by boosting jobs, increasing minimum wages, providing universal public services, stopping tax dodging and tackling climate change.”

Governments need to stand up to corporate interests who are now so powerful that they are not only the sole beneficiaries of global rigged rules but the co-authors of them, he argued.

“It’s clear that governments will only take on the power of money if they are challenged by the power of the people.”

Still, the good news is that the movement to tackle inequality and confront plutocracy is growing, declared Phillips.

Martens told IPS lessons from the MDGs show that development goals are only useful if they are linked to clear commitments by governments to provide the necessary means of implementation.

That’s why the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development (FfD), scheduled to take place in Ethiopia next week, is of utmost importance.

To avoid the complete failure of this conference, he said, all governments have to accept that they have common but differentiated responsibilities to provide the necessary means to implement the SDGs; and they have to strengthen the U.N. substantially in international tax cooperation by establishing an intergovernmental tax body within the U.N.

Meanwhile the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 found that the 15-year effort to achieve the eight aspirational goals set out in the Millennium Declaration in 2000 was largely successful across the globe, while acknowledging shortfalls that remain.

The data and analysis presented in the report show that, with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest can make progress.

Highlighting some of the shortcomings, the report said that although significant gains have been made for many of the MDG targets worldwide, progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps.

Conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development, with fragile and conflict-affected countries typically experiencing the highest poverty rates.

Gender inequality persists in spite of more representation of women in parliament and more girls going to school.

Women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making, according to the report.

Despite enormous progress driven by the MDGs, about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger.

Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the wealthiest 20 per cent and are also four times as likely to be out of school. In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 per cent in 2012, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Religion and the SDGs – The ‘New Normal’ and Calls for Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:03:27 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141440 Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaks at a special event inside the General Assembly Hall, “Common Ground for the Common Good”, held to mark the last day of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

In 2007, an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune argued that you “gotta have faith in the U.N”.

A play on words, the article posited that the shifting sands of geopolitics and concerns surrounding available developmental resources were demanding a rethink of multilateral institutions and traditional forms of developmental partnerships. The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’.

As part of this re-imagining of global relations, the article argued, religion, and diverse faith-based actors in particular, had to be reckoned with more seriously by policy makers at the United Nations in particular – given the timeliness of the ‘mid-term’ MDG review processes.

The article noted that unless religion was systematically and consistently factored into developmental outreach, policy design, programme implementation, and monitoring efforts, something would continue to be missing in the equation of sustainability of human development processes.

In line with the gist of the article, a United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Engaging with Faith-Based Organizations for Sustainable Development was officially formed under the aegis of the U.N. Development Group (UNDG), in 2009, bringing together several U.N. entities (UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, UNAIDS, as well as U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, DESA, UNESCO, UNHabitat and UNEP) with the World Bank as an observer, and headquartered in New York.

The mandate of this body, dubbed the “UN Task Force on Religion and Development” for short, was to seek to share knowledge, and build U.N. staff and systems’ capacities on dealing with faith-based entities, and questions of religion, around the MDGs.

At first, the aspiration of some members of this Task Force was to develop common guidelines for dealing with religious actors, to which the varied U.N. developmental agencies/offices in particular, could sign on to. Very soon it became clear that common guidelines would not be possible.

Why? Because to agree to common guidelines would entail some form of common acceptance that religion mattered. Even more challenging, common guidelines would imply some sort of legitimacy around a complex and hard to define category of ‘religious actors’.

The Task Force members collaborated to serve as a hub for information and knowledge sharing between and among U.N. agencies and religious NGOs (or faith-based organisations/FBOs) accredited to ECOSOC or to DPI.

In February 2015, World Bank President Jim Kim convened a roundtable with CEOs of major international development and humanitarian FBOs, and religious leaders. In it, he stated that [the World Bank] cannot effectively seek to eradicate poverty without partnering with FBOs and religious leaders.

“We are open for business,” he said, indicating that these very actors can hold the World Bank accountable, henceforth, for more systematic engagement. The exact modalities of which, it should be noted, are yet to be worked out.

The meeting between WB President Jim Kim and the leaders of major FBOs signals a tipping point in international development, which will be underlined next week, on July 8 and 9, when the World Bank, together with bilateral co-sponsors, international FBOs and aid agencies, will convene a global conference on “Religion and Sustainable Development”.

The conference will focus on eradicating extreme poverty – one of the World Bank’s key objectives and the number one SDG. The objectives of the meeting will be to look at the evidence of faith-based engagement in poverty eradication, specifically in health, humanitarian relief and violence against women; to seek actionable recommendations for scaling up successful work modalities, and to secure more targeted and strategic investment in “faith assets”.

Building a ‘global faith-based movement for sustainable development’ has been mentioned by some of the organisers as one of the outcomes of this gathering. This conference may well mark a turning point in international development speak – from ‘whether/why to engage with faith actors’, to ‘how to engage better’.

The question is whether the conference could signal a moment in the trajectory of international development when ‘engaging with religious actors’ may well become the ‘new normal’?

Immediately following the World Bank meeting, on July 10 and 11, the U.N.’s Inter-Agency Task Force will convene a select number of donors, U.N. agencies and FBO partners, to host its second trilateral policy roundtable also on religion and the SDGs (the first took place in May of 2014).

The objective of this meeting is, put simply, to press the ‘pause’ button, so as to reflect, together, on where this potentially ‘new normal’ could lead us.

Focusing on the ‘governance’, ‘peace and security’ and ‘gender equality’ development goals, and with the relative ‘safe space’ afforded by respecting Chatham House rules, the gathered participants will speak candidly to what each organisation, and policy maker, in each of these ‘sectors’, is facing when religion comes into the mix.

Needless to say, these three developmental goals are where the challenge of religious dogma, harmful practices, and incitement to extremes of violence – to name but a few – are very much at play.

Those of us who have had to do battle inside our own organisations to bring attention to bear on the importance of learned appreciation of the roles of religion know full well how the difficulties posed by some religious ideologies, certain religious organisations, and specific ‘religious’ leaders are not just ‘out there’ in the communities we ostensibly serve, but also form part of the intergovernmental debates which define the organisational mandates we serve.

Part of the claim to success of some FBOs is their age-old capacity to provide social services directed to inequalities among the most hard to reach, and to develop innovative means of resourcing their work – including a capacity to rely on volunteer labour.

At the same time, however, some of the experience of certain U.N. entities –especially around human rights (and women’s rights in particular)- bespeaks serious challenges with certain religious leaders and faith entities.

It is not insignificant that this moment of honest reflection is being sought as the Financing for Development (FfD) conference, with all its attendant disputes among different Member State groupings, is also being enacted.

One of the many critical questions to be debated is whether FfD should have its own follow-up and review process or be merged with the post-2015 process. Also debated are issues of accountability and shared responsibility between and among governments, as well as dynamics relevant to public-private partnerships around human rights.

But where does follow-up, accountability and partnership modalities with faith-based actors fit into these debates?

The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’. So as we undertake to normalise faith-based engagement with multilateralism, we have some serious questions to confront and find answers to together with our faith-based partners.

These include: should we be cautious of seeking to normalize partnerships with faith-based development organizations, and with religious leaders, at a time when some faith-based entities, and certain ‘religious leaders’, are also significantly undermining the very basis of multilateralism based on universal human rights, human development, and peace and security?

How realistic is it to maintain that we are working with the ‘good [faith-based] guys’ only? Or is it (finally) time to be very clear about the means of implementation and accountability of such partnerships, at a U.N.-system wide level?

Given the intergovernmental haggling over means of implementation and the U.N.’s fit for SDG purposes, what are the criteria which will be used to assess whether the U.N., in its current guise, is indeed, fit for the purposes of religious partnerships?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Love & Mercy, the Croatian Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:43:10 +0000 Emina Cerimovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141435

Emina Ćerimović is a Koenig fellow at Human Rights Watch and carried out research in 2014 on institutionalization of people with disabilities in Croatia.

By Emina Ćerimović
NEW YORK, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Last week, I went to see the new flick “Love & Mercy,” about the life of Brian Wilson, a singer, songwriter, and the genius behind The Beach Boys. I hadn’t heard much about the film. In fact, I was expecting a summer movie about surfing and fun; The Beach Boys playing Kokomo, Good Vibrations, and Surfin’ U.S.A. on sunny California  beaches.

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

I was wrong. Instead, lives of hundreds of people I’ve met unfolded on the screen.

Love & Mercy depicts Wilson in two narratives: in the first, he is portrayed at the height of his fame as the leader of The Beach Boys in the 1960s. The second features a middle-aged Wilson misdiagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by Eugene Landy, Wilson’s therapist and legal guardian.

In the movie, Landy keeps Wilson heavily medicated as he controls every aspect of his life, including his finances, residence, family relationships and social interactions, and other basic life decisions. In one scene, Wilson talks about not speaking to his mother and daughters for years because Landy “doesn’t think it is a good idea.”

In another, Landy tells Wilson when and how much he should eat and whom he should date. Landy himself explains his influence:  “I’m the control. He is a little boy in a man’s body… It is my job, my duty to approve everyone Brian is spending time with.”Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants.

Wilson did not argue against Landy taking charge for fear that Landy would have him committed to an institution. As Wilson explains in the movie: “I can’t do that [disobey Landy]. He is my legal guardian. He can do things to me… He can send me away… There’s no way out.”

As the movie unfolded, it wasn’t solely Wilson’s story that I saw on the screen. I was reminded of Tatjana and Ivan, whom I met in Croatia. They are among the 18,000 people with disabilities placed under guardianship there and denied their right to make decisions about their lives.

More than 90 percent live under full guardianship, under which the guardians – often nominated by the government – make all life decisions for them.

Tatjana was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 30s, deprived of her legal capacity and placed under guardianship. She is now 47 but can’t visit her daughter or her mother without the permission of her guardian – in her case, a social worker.

It is the same if she wants to move to another house, get married, sign an employment contract, make health care decisions, or even officially publish her poems. Tatjana lived for nine years in an institution against her will because her legal guardian placed her there.  

Ivan is 30 and was diagnosed with mild mental health problems. He was just 16 when he was placed indefinitely in Lopaca, a psychiatric hospital where 168 people, including 20 children, are confined. He still lives there.

Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants. Both of them were stripped of their right to make decisions about their lives and appointed legal guardians.

Neither Tatjana nor Ivan was present during the court proceedings determining their legal capacity so they could  provide their input for this major decision about their life.  While guardians are supposed to only oversee decisions with legal consequences, such as signing contracts, in Croatia – just like what was depicted in Love & Mercy –guardians can monitor and control every move a person makes.

I saw firsthand that people with disabilities trapped in institutions in Croatia can experience a range of abuses including verbal abuse, forced treatment, involuntary confinement in hospitals, and limited freedom of movement.

At a pivotal point in the movie, Landy forbids Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter, his current wife, from seeing each other. That triggers Ledbetter, the true heroine of the movie, to intensify her efforts to free Wilson from Landy’s control. She learns that Wilson’s will would have awarded the vast majority of his wealth to Landy. The good news: Wilson’s family files a lawsuit successfully challenging the guardianship.

Sadly, there are no heroines to free Tatjana or Ivan of their guardians. There is a chance of a happy ending though. Croatia, unlike the U.S., has ratified the U.N. Disability Rights Treaty, which requires governments to move away from guardianship and instead provide a system of assistance and support for decision-making that respects the autonomy, will, and preferences of the person with the disability. Croatian laws, however, don’t reflect this.

Key policymakers in the Croatian government should see “Love & Mercy.” Maybe then they will abolish Croatia’s guardianship regime and provide a wide range of support measures. Who knew that The Beach Boys’ influence could go so far beyond their music?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Financial Inclusion Key to Climate Risk Reduction for Zambia’s Smallholdershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/financial-inclusion-key-to-climate-risk-reduction-for-zambias-smallholders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financial-inclusion-key-to-climate-risk-reduction-for-zambias-smallholders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/financial-inclusion-key-to-climate-risk-reduction-for-zambias-smallholders/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:29:26 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141432 Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage.  Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Neva Hamalengo (right) knows what it means to lose crops to the ravages of weather and have no insurance coverage. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MOYO, Pemba District, Zambia, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

In the advent of unpredictable weather, smallholder rain-dependent agriculture is increasingly becoming a risky business and the situation could worsen if, as seems likely, the world experiences levels of global warming that could lead to an increase in droughts, floods and diseases, both in frequency and intensity.

Neva Hamalengo, a 40-year-old farmer from Moyo in Pemba district, Southern Zambia, knows what it means to lose everything in a blink of an eye – not only did a storm wipe out an entire hectare of market-ready tomatoes worth about 15,000 kwacha (2,000 dollars), but he also suffered maize crop failure due to a month-long drought.

“I expect very poor yields this season,” he told IPS. “We suffered crop damage through a storm and when crops needed the rains to recover, we had a severe drought.”

To make matters worse, his smallholder business had no insurance cover and, admitting that he “knew nothing about insurance,” Hamalengo said that would love to see insurance education incorporated into agricultural extension services.“When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions” – Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia

Hamalengo’s situation represents the predicament faced by most smallholder farmers – who are generally excluded from financial services – and confirms arguments by some experts that the risk of running an uninsured business is far greater if climate is involved.

While financial inclusion is considered a key enabler for reducing poverty, the statistics in Zambia are far from encouraging. According to a 2009 FinScope survey, 63 percent of the Zambian adult population (6.4 million people) is excluded from formal financial services. Slightly over half of the adult population is engaged in farming.

Putting these statistics into context, the “unbanked” majority are poor people, with many of them smallholder farmers. Now, in an attempt to help them become more resilient to climate variability and shocks, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, aimed at tackling risk in a holistic manner.

The initiative is “an integrated approach to managing risk, focusing on index‐based agricultural insurance (risk transfer), improved natural resource management (disaster risk reduction), credit (prudent risk taking), savings (risk reserves) and productive safety nets,” Allan Mulando, WFP Zambia’s Head of Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping Unit (VAM), told IPS.

The initiative is based on a strategic global partnership between WFP and Oxfam America which, Mulando said, is aimed at “improving the capacity of food-insecure households to manage the risks of severe weather shocks.”

Working with partners such as the national Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), government ministries, the Meteorological Department, national insurance companies, as well as credit and savings institutions, the project strives to integrate activities with already running government programmes on resilience, such as the Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up (CASU), programme.

CASU, which is being run by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and with financial support from the European Union (EU), aims to contribute to reduced hunger, and improved food security, nutrition and income, while promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.

“R4’s overall objective is to create an environment for private sector participation through market development to ensure sustainability … through insurance cover, credit provision, asset creation programmes and safety nets, as well as household saving … all of which have been identified as alternative ways of reducing vulnerability,” explained Mulando.

Stressing the importance of the project, Southern Province Principal Agriculture Officer Paul Nyambe told IPS that “the Ministry [of Agriculture and Livestock] has been encouraging climate-resilient technologies under CASU and crop diversification amid climate-induced hazards, of which financial inclusion is a key ingredient.”

Meanwhile, for the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, such initiatives are always welcome because they fall within the government’s major objective of building the capacity of local communities to adapt to climate change.

“Stakeholders with initiatives that help people to adapt are welcome,” Richard Lungu, Chief Environment Management Officer at the ministry, said. “Right now, government is in the process of mobilising resources to support communities affected by a severe drought which led to crop failure.”

According to Lungu, who is Zambia’s focal point for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) , “climate change is now a cross-cutting developmental issue especially for Zambia whose economy is natural resource dependent”, with over 80 percent of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Whereas climate shocks can trap farmers in poverty, the risk of shocks also limits their willingness to invest in measures that might increase their productivity and improve their economic situation – and this is where financial education becomes critical.

“Taking into consideration that agricultural weather-based index insurance is relatively new among our small farmers, there is a need for strong financial education,” Mulando told IPS. “When small-scale farmers are financially literate, they are able to guide fellow farmers to uptake a particular financial product such as insurance or credit … and avoid making poor decisions.”

Financial expert George Siameja agreed but noted that the problem lies at two levels – lack of financial education and an inhibiting credit finance environment.

“However, financial literacy should be the starting point because banks consider it too risky to lend money to individuals with inadequate financial capacity,” Siameja told IPS. “While farming is a function of climate, financial education is key.”

Sussane Giese, a German development and change consultant, also pointed to the so-called “dependency syndrome” which inhibits farmers from being more active. “In my interactions with some field officers,” she said, “there is something called dependency syndrome affecting farmers where they see themselves as beneficiaries and not individuals running agriculture as an enterprise.”

Meanwhile, one farmer who is singing the praises of financial literacy is 34-year-old Rodney Mudenda of Nabuzoka village in Pemba district, who has seen a dramatic change of fortunes.

“Since I was trained in financial management last year, I have changed my approach to farming. I am ready to take calculated risks like I did this season to reduce on maize and plant more sunflowers, a drought-tolerant crop. And the gamble has paid off. I expect to earn 12,000 kwacha (1,500 dollars) from an investment of 5,000 kwacha (650 dollars)”, Mudenda told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Equality, a Hard Game to Win for Women Footballers in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/equality-a-hard-game-to-win-for-women-footballers-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 14:33:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141428 Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Girls from the La Nuestra football team wait to start their twice-weekly training in the Villa 31 shantytown in Buenos Aires. They often have to cut short their practice when boys take over the local pitch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

During a women’s football match in a poor neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, team manager Mónica Santino has to stop the game and ask a group of boys and young men not to invade the pitch where they’re playing. This frequent occurrence is just one symbol of a struggle being played out, centimeter by centimeter, on Argentina’s pitches.

“Come on, stop just for a while, we’re leaving soon. Don’t get in the middle of our game,” Santino said, trying to persuade in a friendly way the boys and teenagers who bully their way onto the pitch where the women’s match is going on, in Villa 31, a shantytown of 40,000 people on the northeast side of Buenos Aires, right in the middle of the upscale Retiro neighourhood.

“If it was a men’s match they would never do that, because they would have serious problems. But since it’s girls who are playing…” she commented to IPS one night the La Nuestra team was playing.

Although girls and women make up half of the population of this ‘villa miseria’, as shantytowns are called in Argentina, it hasn’t been easy for them to gain a place on the football pitch, traditionally men’s territory.“Playing football here, the girls have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with other young women. Many things that happen for us are political, they have a revolutionary component, because something is changing.” – Mónica Santino

“They think football and the pitch are for them,” one of the players, 15-year-old Agustina Olaña, told IPS.

When the project began in 2007, they had to mark off the area they were using with cones and stones. Now they practice twice a week.

“It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but this achievement sends out an extremely important message about gender because football pitches are the most important public spaces in the barrios,” said Santino, a 49-year-old former football player who was the first woman coach in the Argentine Football Association.

“We live in a country where football is the national sport – it explains us as Argentines, it represents us in world championships, but in football women are still second-class citizens,” she lamented.

La Nuestra (Ours) is also an organisation that seeks greater access to football for women, using the sport to empower them, build self esteem and boost gender equality.

The project initially only targeted teenagers. But it was soon overwhelmed by the spontaneous demand from girls and adult women. Of today’s 70 participants, half are between the ages of six and 12, and the rest are over 13.

“For presents, I would get dolls or little balls, but I wanted footballs,” said one of the students, nine-year-old Florencia Carabajal.

“It seems to me that men haven’t learned that we can also play,” said 10-year-old Juanita Burgos, who hopes to become a professional footballer. “The boys used to call me a tomboy. But now they don’t say anything to me anymore. I tell them that if I want to play ball, who are they to say I can’t.”

But her dream is not an easy one for women to reach in Argentina, even though this country won the World Cup twice and has produced legendary players like Diego Maradona and Leonel Messi.

In women’s football, Argentina has never won a global championship. According to Santino, that’s because the big clubs believe “it isn’t a good show, and doesn’t generate money,” which is why Argentina doesn’t invest in women players as other countries do.

“No club has the structure for lower divisions or for girls to start training as players at an early age, which is when you grow as an athlete and get ready to compete,” she said.

“When Argentina has participated in international tournaments, it has been painful, because when we play against teams like those of Germany or the United States, they score 11, 13, 15 goals,” she said.

“Then the brutal criticism starts: that the Argentine jersey can’t be sullied, or that the country can’t be publicly embarrassed that way. But you can see here that we don’t have the infrastructure. Their arguments are really unfair,” said Santino.

“I was fortunate to be on the team, to have played in a world cup, but we really did it on our own, at great sacrifice,” said the La Nuestra coach, 33-year-old Vanina García, who had no choice but to keep working while playing football.

Santino is pushing for the project to be replicated in other barrios, and to that end she draws on her experience as a scout for street soccer for the homeless. She also hopes to create a women’s football club, where the women will not only play but will discuss issues such as sports and gender as well.

La Nuestra emerged from Santino’s work as coordinator of the Women’s Football Programme of the Women’s Centre in the Buenos Aires district of Vicente López. It receives funds from the Buenos Aires city government’s programme for adolescents, and the national government’s children’s affairs secretariat.

“We have managed to do it with the sweat of our brow,” she said.

According to Santino, an activist for women’s rights in sports and a member of the non-governmental Women in Equality Foundation, “this is a pending issue on the feminist agenda.”

“Women are not expected to run, sweat, make an effort,” she said. “They say that if you play football, your body will turn into a man’s body. There’s a widespread idea that all women who play football are lesbians.”

“I believe this involves the same thing as when we’re talking about the right to have an abortion and all the different kinds of prejudice that emerge. It’s a way of controlling women’s bodies, saying what they should look like,” she said.

For Santino, women’s football provides a good excuse to talk about other feminist demands, such as the right to rest and recreation.

“To come to a game, the big burden was the housework,” she said. “They would come after washing the dishes, or taking care of their younger siblings or their own children, starting at a really young age. Things that women are supposed to do. Boys, on the other hand, get home from school, dump their backpacks, and come to the football pitch directly.”

“Playing football here, the girls and women have two hours when they don’t have to think about anything else, when they just have fun, and forge ties with others. For us, a lot of what is happening is political, it has a revolutionary component, because something is changing,” Santino said.

For Karen Marín, 19, who sells chicken and came to this country from Bolivia with her parents when she was eight years old, La Nuestra has offered a way to make friends and become part of Argentine society.

“I suffered from discrimination because I’m Bolivian, and I would draw into myself and just stay in my room,” she said. “One day they invited me here. I’ve never missed a day since. Football helped me with everything, and it especially helped me to be more easy-going and open.”

Despite the difficulties, coach García believes women’s football, which is now practiced in schools and in most neighbourhood tournaments, is more widely accepted.

“I suppose that’s because women have taken on another role,” she said. “In a lot of areas, but in football as well. Women stand up for themselves, and if they want to play football, they play.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Fights to Protect High-Value, Declining Specieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:15:36 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141424 The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Threats from climate change, declining reefs, overfishing and possible loss of several commercial species are driving the rollout of new policy measures to keep Caribbean fisheries sustainable.

Regional groups and the U.S.-based NGO Wild Earth Guardians have petitioned for the listing of some of the Caribbean’s most economically valuable marine species as vulnerable, endangered or threatened with extinction.

In addition, regional scientists believe that climate change could alter the ranges of some of the larger species and perhaps wipe out existing ones. “TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years." -- Biologist Kathleen Woods

Fisheries ministers of the Caribbean say they are concerned that “extra-national activities and decisions” could impact the social and economic well being of their countries and their access to international markets. They have agreed to work together to protect both the sustainability and trade of several high value marine species.

At a meeting in November 2014, the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) expressed alarm at the U.S. government’s decision to list the Nassau Grouper, a commercially traded species, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even after successfully thwarting the listing of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), they fret that other species would go the way of the Nassau Grouper.

The conch and Nassau grouper are two of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. The list includes one coral, one ray, five sharks, two sawfish, four groupers and the Queen Conch.

Regional fisheries officials know that such listings will shut down international trade of the affected species. Alternatively, it could lead to rigorous permits and quota systems that prevent trade by vulnerable populations in countries that are without working management structures.

The Guardians say they are driven by the critical state of many Caribbean species and the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for them. The 14 marine species named are already listed as protected or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), endangered species associate Taylor Jones told IPS.

“Specifically in terms of the conch, we note that the U.S. appetite for conch meat is having an impact on stocks in the Caribbean,” she said.

Jones noted that when the Guardians take action the aim is to limit the impact of U.S. consumption patterns – which has already caused the collapse of its own conch fishery – on the rest of the world. The United States is the largest importer of conch meat, consuming 78 per cent of production, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds annually.

While the Guardians failed in their bid to have the conch included in the ESA, concern for the struggling populations of Conch continue. Even though the U.S. closed Florida’s Conch fisheries in 1986, the population has still not recovered and the fisheries in its Caribbean territories are also in poor shape.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), one of the region’s largest exporter of the mollusk, biologist Kathleen Woods reports that conch stocks are on the brink of collapse.

“TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase,” she said. “Preliminary results of the conch visual survey indicate that TCI does not have sufficient densities of adult conch to sustain breeding and spawning. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years.”

The CRFM Secretariat says it is already looking at management plans for the species most eaten or exploited by its member states. The secretariat says there is evidence that Nassau Grouper populations and spawning aggregations are in decline and is supporting the listing.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Secretariat has drafted a strategy to implement minimum standards for the management, conservation and protection for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) across all 17 member states. The Secretariat cites concern for falling catches, declining habitats and the absence of adequate management systems in some countries.

In Jamaica, where the lobster and conch fisheries are regulated by the CITES endangered species treaty, authorities are extending protection to other local species that are already stressed from overfishing and climate change, Director of Fisheries Andre Kong told IPS.

“We are looking at bio-degradable traps and will where possible improve the existing management system to include the spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus) known locally as the chicken lobster,” he said, pointing out that the local species is not governed by the CITES regulations.

Caribbean favorites like the Parrotfish and sea eggs (sea urchins) are in serious decline. Regional groups are seeking to ban those and other species to protect remaining populations and the reef.  Some countries have already restricted the capture of the Parrotfish and the IUCN has recommended its listing as a specially protected species under the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

CRFM has already implemented a management plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flying fish, which supports a small but lucrative trade in the countries that fish for the species. A coral reef action plan is also in place, a review of the legislation of several member states has been completed, alongside the rollout of public awareness programmes for regional fishers. One drawback: the rules are non-binding and left up to individual governments to implement.

Woods, who until mid-2014 headed the TCI government’s Environment and Marine Department, noted that despite the existence of regulations that exceed those introduced by the CRFM, conch and lobster habitats in that country “continue to be degraded and lost because of poor development practices like dredging, the use of caustic materials like bleach for fishing and other activities.”

Veteran TCI fisherman Oscar Talbot echoes Woods belief that a combination of factors, including a lack of political will, poor enforcement and corruption in the regulatory agencies, are the reasons the Conch stocks are close to collapsing.

“Poacher boats, illegal divers and some politicians with their own (processing) plants have played a role in the improper exploitation of the fish, lobster and conch. We also have a lot of fisherman and poachers taking juvenile conch in and out of season,” he said.

TCI is one of the few countries that continue to allow the capture and consumption of sea turtles and sharks, but Woods believes exploitation of these species by locals is sustainable. Talbot wants fishers to stick to the rules and exploit the resources during the open seasons only.

A fisherman for over 40 years, Talbot said the unregulated catches are impacting all the islands’ local fisheries. He is concerned that undersized conchs of up to 18 to the pound have been taken, a sore point for the grandfather who sits on the fisheries advisory council of the TCI.

But while regional leaders express “outrage” at the actions of the NGOs, regional fishers support Talbot’s view that only external pressure will force governments to act.

For most countries, the lack of personnel, funding and illegal fishing have hampered progress. This is not lost on the Guardians.

“In general it appears that the region is struggling with limited resources for conservation, including lack of funding and lack of personnel for enforcement of existing regulations,” Jones said.

And while Talbot and Woods lobby TCI Governor Peter Beckingham to champion immediate changes to the fisheries legislation approved and agreed by local fishers more than a year ago, Jones echoes their aspirations:

“It is our hope that ESA listing would make more U.S. funding and personnel available for use by local conservation programmes,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Swears by Hefty 100 Billion Dollar Target to Fight Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-swears-by-hefty-100-billion-dollar-target-to-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-swears-by-hefty-100-billion-dollar-target-to-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-swears-by-hefty-100-billion-dollar-target-to-fight-climate-change/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141419 Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Motorists navigate a flooded stretch of road in the town of Ragama, just north of Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The most devastating impact of climate change – including rising sea levels, floods, cyclones and both droughts and heavy monsoons – will be felt mostly by the world’s poorest nations.

To meet these impending threats – which will destroy countless human lives and ravage agricultural crops – the United Nations is seeking a hefty 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 as part of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) aimed at supporting developing countries strengthen their resilience and help adapt themselves to meet the foreboding challenges.“The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively?" -- Lisa Elges of Transparency International

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on climate change last week: “I will pro-actively engage with leaders from both the global north and south to make sure this goal is met and is considered credible by all.”

The Green Climate Fund, headquartered in Incheon, South Korea, must be “up and running”, he said, with funds that can be disbursed before a key meeting on climate change in Paris in December.

Asked if the ambitious 100-billion-dollar target was realistic, Lisa Elges, Head of Climate Policy at Transparency International, told IPS: “The more practical question is: how can he achieve the target?”

Public purses are stretched, yet public finance is still necessary. And if you want to involve the private sector, you need public finance to give subsidies and attract and leverage private investments, she added.

Elges said one ‘untapped’ source of finance could be the crackdown on illicit financial flows.

For example, if countries tackle money laundering, they can make more taxable money available to address the world’s environmental and development needs.

To put the 100 billion dollars in perspective, Elges said, 1,000 billion dollars are lost annually in illicit financial flows losses, including corruption, bribery and tax evasion.

“When the corrupt lose, the people and planet will gain,” she said.

Michael Westphal, a Senior Associate in the Sustainable Finance team at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told IPS a politically feasible path to reach 100 billion dollars (per year) in international climate funding by 2020 is to include a larger set of climate finance sources and scaling up all public finance.

Reaching the 100-billion-dollar target is possible, he said, but warned it will take a concerted action by public actors to use public finance to leverage private sector investment.

In paper on climate funding, WRI discuss a number of recommendations.

Firstly, developed nations should commit to increasing all public funding flows to 2020.

This includes developed country climate finance as reported to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (mostly finance through bilateral channels), multilateral development bank climate finance, and climate-related official development assistance.

Secondly, developed countries should consider using new and innovative sources of finance toward the 2020 goal, including redirected fossil fuel subsidies, carbon market revenues, financial transaction taxes, export credits, and debt relief – many of which have been little used to mobilise climate finance.

And thirdly, parties should clarify the definition of climate finance and development of methodologies, including those for calculating and attributing leveraged private sector investment, to improve accounting and reporting.

At a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrial nations in Australia last November, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a contribution of 3.0 billion dollars to help the world’s poorest nations fight climate change.

Even before Obama’s pledge, the New York Times reported that at least 10 countries, including France, Germany, and South Korea, had pledged a total of around 3.0 billion dollars to the fund.

The U.S. contribution was followed by a pledge of 1.5 billion dollars by Japan.

Back in November 2014, Hela Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the Fund, was quoted as saying: “The contribution by the U.S. will have a direct impact on mobilizing contributions from the other large economies.

Ban told delegates last week: “I strongly urge developed countries to provide a politically credible trajectory for mobilizing 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing countries in curbing emissions and strengthening their resilience.”

It is imperative, he pointed out, that developed countries provide greater clarity on the public finance component of the 100 billion before Paris, as well as on how they will engage private finance

An agreement must also acknowledge the need for long-term, very significant financing beyond 2020.

“I welcome the recent announcement by Germany to double its climate finance support by 2020, and encourage other developed countries to follow this example,” he implored.

Taken in sum, he said, this finance package should build trust and help unlock the additional trillions in financing needed to build low carbon, climate resilient economies.

According to the United Nations, a summit meeting of world leaders last September catalysed “much-needed momentum” on climate finance.

“Public and private sector leaders pledged to mobilise over 200 billion dollars by the end of 2015 to finance low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.”

A meeting in Lima, Peru last December pledged 10 billion dollars for the initialisation of the Green Climate Fund, according to a U.N. statement.

Providing a different perspective, Elges of Transparency International (TI) told IPS: “The challenge is: how do we make sure that the world spends the money earmarked to avoid serious climate change efficiently and effectively? If that money goes astray, it could have disastrous consequences on the ground.”

She said there is also the corruption threat of lobby groups – for example, in the fossil fuel industries – in developed countries like the U.S. or the UK, who are able to influence long-term climate policy for short-term gain.

For example: 550 billion dollars per year go to fossil fuel in the form of subsidies, often resulting from corruption and undue influence.

In developing countries, the greater issue is weak governance: in practice, laws on transparency and accountability are not being respected.

One of our priorities at TI is to strengthen these areas of government and help citizens scrutinise hold their leaders to account.

Corruption is a global phenomenon: it affects all countries, albeit in different ways and it can affect every aspect of life, including our global response to climate change, she declared.

Asked if there is a U.N. role in battling corruption in climate change, Elges said climate change, human rights and transnational crime are all covered by U.N. treaties and compliance bodies.

The U.N. therefore has a huge role to play – politically and practically, to improve coordination against corruption across the board, and around the world, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141417 Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finishedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141408 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/feed/ 0 Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141397 UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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