Inter Press ServiceDevelopment & Aid – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Jan 2018 17:32:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Can Drought Be Prevented? Slovakia Aims to Tryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-drought-prevented-slovakia-aims-try/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-drought-prevented-slovakia-aims-try http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-drought-prevented-slovakia-aims-try/#respond Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:01:01 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153960 A landmark programme to combat drought set to be implemented in the small Central European country of Slovakia could be an inspiration for other states as extreme weather events become more frequent, the environmental action group behind the plan has said. The H2odnota v krajine (Value of H2O in the country) plan, which is expected to […]

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Danube border between Hungary and Slovakia. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Danube border between Hungary and Slovakia. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Jan 22 2018 (IPS)

A landmark programme to combat drought set to be implemented in the small Central European country of Slovakia could be an inspiration for other states as extreme weather events become more frequent, the environmental action group behind the plan has said.

The H2odnota v krajine (Value of H2O in the country) plan, which is expected to be approved by the Slovak government this Spring, includes a range of measures which, unlike many plans for drought, is proactive and focuses on prevention and mitigation instead of reacting to drought once it has occurred.Southern Slovakia’s climate is rapidly becoming closer to that of northern Italy or Spain.

Richard Muller, Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe at the Global Water Partnership, an international network of organisations working to promote sustainable management and development of water resources, helped draft the plan.

He told IPS: “A few of the measures in this plan have been adopted in other countries as part of climate change adaptation, but Slovakia is the first country in the region to have this kind of action plan to combat drought.

“It is a landmark plan…other countries could look at this and be inspired and say, yes, this is something we should copy.”

The focus of the plan is on preventive measures in a number of areas, specifically agriculture and forestry, urban landscape, water management, research and environmental education.

The measures involve projects to modernise irrigation systems and change forest structure towards better climate change resilience as well as rainwater harvesting, tree planting, development of green spaces, green and vertical roofs and rainwater infiltration in urban landscapes.

It also covers water management, dealing with preparatory work for reconstruction of smaller reservoirs of water and green infrastructure, including wetlands restoration.

There is also a crisis plan to supply water to different sectors of national economy during prolonged drought while it also involves programmes for public education and raising awareness of drought and water scarcity.

Together, these measures should, Muller explained, mean that even if and when there are long, dry spells, there will be some mitigation of the effects.

“Other countries have plans for drought, but in some, such as the USA, measures are related to dealing with drought after the event. But the Slovak plan is focused on prevention and action beforehand,” he said.

Strbske Pleso lake in the High Tatras in Slovakia. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Strbske Pleso lake in the High Tatras in Slovakia. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Slovakia, like many other countries around the world, has seen an increased frequency of extreme weather events in recent years, including record heat and drought.

Last year, some parts of the country saw the driest first half of the year in over six decades while there was a very severe drought during 2015 when there were 23 days classified as super-tropical, i.e. with maximum temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius. This was compared to a maximum of five such days per year in years prior to 1990.

Similar droughts have been experienced across the wider central European region – in the Czech Republic conditions in last year’s drought were particularly severe with serious water shortages reported – and intergovernmental talks on drought, other extreme weather events and the environment have taken place over the last year.

The Slovak plan has already drawn interest from other governments, being praised by officials at a meeting last November of the Visegrad Four group – a political alliance of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic – in Budapest.

As the plan is focused on prevention, its effectiveness during times of drought may not be immediately noticed by many. But even when there is no drought, it has the potential to effect a positive change.

“Some of the measures in the plan will improve people’s quality of life, for instance in towns and villages, through things like rainwater harvesting, tree planting, the development of green spaces, vertical and ‘green’ roofs and rainwater infiltration” explained Muller.

But while the adoption of the plan has been welcomed and it seems set to benefit Slovaks even in times when there is no drought, the need for it at all highlights growing concerns over the rapid changes in the country’s climate and what they could mean for its water supplies and use.

Slovakia has a relative wealth of groundwater sources due its specific geology and, historically, droughts have been infrequent and water shortages rare.

But the drought in 2015, which was the worst in more than 100 years, was, largely, what prompted the Slovak government to begin work on the action plan – “the government wants to be prepared if it happens again,” said Muller. And the drought last year only reinforced its determination to push on with it.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the plan in November last year, Environment Minister Laszlo Solymos said: “If anyone has had doubts about global warming, this summer has offered a lot of opportunities to eliminate them. You just had to look into wells in the Zahorie area or talk to farmers. Slovakia isn’t spared from drought.”

More frequent and intense droughts are almost certain in the future, climatologists predict, as the climate in Slovakia changes.

Local climatologists agree that Slovakia’s climate zones are pushing northward and that southern Slovakia’s climate is rapidly becoming closer to that of northern Italy or Spain.

According to the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute, the average annual air temperature in Slovakia rose 1 degree Celsius between 1991-2014 compared to 1961-1990.

With these higher temperatures comes not just greater demand for water but a higher risk of more frequent, intense and widespread drought. Indeed, official data from the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute shows that in the last three years some part of Slovakia has been affected by drought.

Speaking to the Slovak daily newspaper Hospdarske noviny this month (JAN), Milan Lapin, a climatologist at the University of Comenius in Bratislava, said: “Since we expect that in the future there won’t be greater rainfall in Slovakia, the country will be drier, there will be more frequent drought with dramatic consequences and we’ll have serious problems with water.”

Muller admits that the current action plan may not be enough if worst-case scenarios of climate change come to pass and extra measures might be needed decades in the future.

“We might need new, innovative technology and large-scale infrastructure for water retention and distribution.”

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Left Behind: Families of Migrants Wait in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 12:48:50 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153958 Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy. Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad […]

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A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NANKAR, Bangladesh, Jan 20 2018 (IPS)

Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy.

Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad (Union Council) and an influential person in the community, told IPS in Mithapukur how in 2008, the army-led caretaker government demolished his son’s shop in Nankar village, along with many other shops, in a drive to push out unauthorized commercial businesses.

Nankar has a population of about 3,000 people, most of them dependent on agriculture. It is in Mithapukur Upazilla (sub-district), south of Rangpur, a northern city some 300 km from the capital of Dhaka, Bangladesh where in the commercial section of the sub-district, prices are as high as 600,000 dollars for one acre of land.

Having lost his source of income after the shop was demolished, Nayeem contacted his cousin Ahmed Mustafa in Venice, Italy who had been living there for many years. Nayeem was impressed that Ahmed earned about 1,500 Euro per month as a street vendor and decided to try his luck entering Italy. With help from Ahmed, who managed to sponsor an Italian visa for him on training in electronics, Nayeem made his way to Italy, making an initial stop in Romania.

To organize this visa and Nayeem’s air ticket, Ahmed charged approximately 15,000 dollars, which was paid by Nayeem’s father-in-law. Nayeem was barely 20 when he married Zulekha and had two children. Zulekha’s father was not cash-rich but owned some land that he agreed to sell at the urging of his daughter, his only child, to finance Nayeem’s voyage to Italy.

Nayeem left Nankar some seven years ago. His children are now 10 and 7 years old and they, along with their mother Zulekha, have not seen Nayeem since. But with the money Nayeem sends home through a local bank, Zulekha lives in a rented house in Nankar. In the meantime, Nayeem has been working as a street vendor selling trinkets in Venice. In the summers, he shifts to the beaches for the lucrative tourist season.

He has a legal visa to stay, which requires renewal every six months. But under his current status, he cannot leave Italy to see his wife, children and parents in Bangladesh as he won’t be able to enter Italy again.

Nayeem’s father Wahid says, “That’s not a problem at all. She is a good girl and she can wait a few more years for her husband.”

Zulekha might feel differently, but IPS was not able to reach her to seek her views on what this means for her future – an absentee husband with no assurance that he will be able to get permission to visit her and his children in the near future.

Wahid told IPS another story about Imran, a 34-year-old man from a neighbouring village who crossed the Mediterranean on a boat but died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival in Italy some two hand half years ago. His father Alim Uddin, 80, and mother Roushanara, 65, refuse to accept their son’s death.

IPS spoke to Alim Uddin and Roushanara at their home in Sathibari, an adjoining village of Nakar. “Can you tell me if Imran is well?” Alim Uddin asked.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 199 people have already died this year attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

In 2017, IOM reported that 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, with just under 70 per cent arriving in Italy and the rest divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) reported a total of 3,116 deaths in the Mediterranean last year.

Imran was the second of seven siblings – three brothers and four sisters. Agriculture was his family’s sole livelihood. He used to support his father by cultivating crops like rice, maize and potatoes on two acres of their ancestral land in the village. But the income wasn’t enough to support the family, consisting of eleven people including Imran’s wife and daughter.

In the hope of earning more money, Imran flew to Libya with a valid visa in 2007. As an unskilled labourer, he was earning about 200 dollars a month. He worked with a construction company in Tripoli for five years and saved 2,500 dollars over that period.

But Imran lost his job soon after the civil war erupted in Libya and he faced a tough situation to stay in Tripoli.

“Meanwhile, many of Imran’s colleagues left Libya for Italy by crossing the Mediterranean,” Imran’s widow Roksana told IPS.

Akbar Ali, a man from Sylhet, an eastern district of Bangladesh who lived in Libya, offered Imran a trip by sea to Italy at a cost of 1,000 dollars, said Roksana. He agreed and set out by boat in 2012 along with 400 other people from Asian and African countries.

A few days later, “I received a phone call from an unknown telephone number and someone at the other end informed me that Imran had died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival at the Italian port,” Roksana said. “He never came home, not even his dead body that we could see and bury.”

Imran and Roksana had been married for only one year before he went to Libya. She gave birth to a girl the same year he left. They named her Rebeka Begum. She is now ten years old. Rebeka doesn’t know what her father looked like.

Although a widow, Roksana did not leave her father-in-law’s house after Imran died. She said, “I could have remarried but did not do so because of my little daughter. Fortunately, my in-laws are good people. Their granddaughter is a solace for them now that their son is gone forever.”

Roksana ekes out a living laboring in the fields at Sathibari.

“I’ve no alternative to hard work in the field,” she said. She choked up when she told IPS about another relative from Nankar who after spending four days at sea, was detained by the Italian Coast Guard and was eventually moved to a camp. Later, he was able to get all his papers in order and was granted a permit to stay. He is now visiting his family near Mithapukur and making arrangements to take his wife to Italy.

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UN Migration Agency Appeals for USD 1.4 Billion to Help over 80 Million People in 50 Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-migration-agency-appeals-usd-1-4-billion-help-80-million-people-50-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-migration-agency-appeals-usd-1-4-billion-help-80-million-people-50-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-migration-agency-appeals-usd-1-4-billion-help-80-million-people-50-countries/#respond Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:27:52 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153946 IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is appealing for nearly USD 1.4 billion to address the needs of over 80 million people in 50 countries in 2018. These vital funds will support people displaced within the borders of their own countries, migrants, refugees and the communities that host them, people returning to their areas of origin […]

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A woman holds her child while in no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar. She arrived along with thousands of other Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar. Photo: Muse Mohammed / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Jan 19 2018 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is appealing for nearly USD 1.4 billion to address the needs of over 80 million people in 50 countries in 2018. These vital funds will support people displaced within the borders of their own countries, migrants, refugees and the communities that host them, people returning to their areas of origin and people experiencing or recovering from conflict and natural disasters.

“The world is experiencing more complex emergencies than ever before, with millions of men, women and children struggling to survive,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies, from the Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. “In terms of internal displacement alone, due to conflict and natural disasters, over 31 million people were newly displaced in 2016 adding to the millions already living in long-term protracted displacement.”

This appeal covers planned activities in crisis prevention and preparedness, emergency response, transition and recovery.

“IOM’s humanitarian programming aims not only to save lives but to help affected communities stabilize, build resilience and find solutions. The long-term impact of our responses is of paramount importance. Whether displaced by drought in Somalia, returning home to a recently liberated neighbourhood in Mosul or a member of the local community in Cox’s Bazar, where over 800,000 Rohingya refugees have settled, millions of people are in need not only of emergency assistance and protection but of innovative support that helps them get back on their feet, more resilient than they were before. This is IOM’s goal for 2018,” said Abdiker.

Information on IOM’s funding needs can be found online in the Humanitarian Compendium.

The planned areas of support include: Shelter and Non-Food Items; Activities to Promote Solutions to displacement, Support Community Stabilization and Transition; Camp Management and Displacement Tracking; Health Support; (Re)integration assistance; Humanitarian Communication; prevention efforts around Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building; Psychosocial Support; Counter-Trafficking and Protection of Vulnerable Migrants; Technical Assistance for Humanitarian Border Management; Housing, Land and Property Support; Transport Assistance to Affected Populations; Migration Policy and Legislation Support; Diaspora and Human Resources Mobilization; and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

The countries covered include: Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Georgia, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Most of IOM’s funding needs are coordinated either under the country-specific inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plans or Regional Refugee Response Plans. IOM’s humanitarian funding requirements may change throughout 2018 as the settings in which the Organization works change.

In 2017, IOM humanitarian programming amounted to USD 1.1 billion.

IOM’s overall programme and budget can be accessed here.

For more information, please contact Olivia Headon at IOM HQ, Tel: +41794035365 Email: oheadon@iom.int

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Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Argentina’s Law on Forests Is Good, But Lacks Enforcementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentinas-law-forests-good-lacks-enforcement/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:52:07 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153918 Never in the parliamentary history of Argentina had something similar happened: one and a half million people in 2007 signed a petition asking the Senate to pass a law to reduce deforestation. The law was quickly approved, and promulgated on Dec. 26 of that year. But 10 years later, it has left a bittersweet taste. […]

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A 2017 demonstration in the capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, against government plans for laxer zoning and land-use management, which would have favoured deforestation, successfully blocked the initiative. Credit: Sebastián Salguero / Greenpeace

A 2017 demonstration in the capital of the province of Córdoba, Argentina, against government plans for laxer zoning and land-use management, which would have favoured deforestation, successfully blocked the initiative. Credit: Sebastián Salguero / Greenpeace

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

Never in the parliamentary history of Argentina had something similar happened: one and a half million people in 2007 signed a petition asking the Senate to pass a law to reduce deforestation. The law was quickly approved, and promulgated on Dec. 26 of that year. But 10 years later, it has left a bittersweet taste.

Researchers and environmental organisations admit that the law had positive impacts and slowed down the destruction of the country’s native forests, caused to a large extent by the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

But they warn that deforestation continues in areas where it is banned, and that the national government has shown a strong lack of interest in enforcing the law, reflected in the lack of funds necessary to finance conservation policies.

“The most positive aspect of the law was that it brought visibility to the problems of indigenous and peasant communities, and society began to look with critical eyes on agricultural activity, which had always been identified as a positive factor, as Argentina is a country that depends on agro-exports,” José Volante, who has a PhD in agricultural sciences, told IPS.

“The expansion of the agricultural frontier entails the concentration of production in a few hands, advanced technology, little employment and expulsion of rural dwellers. The forest law was aimed at curtailing that model, and put on the table another approach that allows the incorporation of more people and is more socially and environmentally friendly,” added Volante, a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) in Salta.

Salta, in the northwest of the country, is one of the provinces that is crucial from the point of view of deforestation. A portion of the province forms part of the Gran Chaco, a vast arid subtropical region of low forests and savannas that extends into Paraguay and Bolivia, which in the last few decades has been experiencing a process called “pampanisation”.

Pampanisation is a local term given to the expansion of agriculture and livestock farming into areas near the pampas, the region of fertile grassland in central Argentina and Uruguay, driven by advances in biotechnology and favourable international commodity prices.

The area sown in Argentina went from 15 million hectares to more than double that in about 30 years. And the Chaco forests have been precisely the main victim, since not only agriculture has expanded there, but also livestock farming, which is often displaced from fertile areas to make room for crops.

More than half of that sown area is currently planted in genetically modified soy, resistant to herbicides, which was allowed into the market by the government in 1996. Since then it has boomed, pushing wheat and corn to second place, thanks to higher profitability.

Salta lost 415,000 hectares of native forest between 2002 and 2006, according to official data, but the process accelerated in 2007, when it was made public that the National Congress was close to passing a law that would place severe restrictions on the possibility of provincial governments to authorise logging and clear-cut activities.

According to global environmental watchdog Greenpeace, in 2007, Salta convened public hearings to authorise the clearing of 425,958 hectares of forest, a figure more than five times higher than the previous year, and which far exceeded the average annual deforestation in the entire country.

“Precisely the flurry of deforestation permits that provinces like Salta granted during 2007 is the best proof that the forestry law was seen as a tool for actually changing things,” Juan Carlos Villalonga, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambiemos alliance, told IPS.

“And to some extent it was, because although it seemed impossible, the deforestation rate in Argentina began to fall. We went from an average of approximately 300,000 annual hectares to 200,000 in 2016,” he added.

Villalonga entered into politics from Greenpeace, one of the approximately 30 organisations that in the second half of 2007, with an intense publicity campaign, achieved the feat of collecting a million and a half signatures to urge the Senate to pass the law protecting the forests.

The law had already been passed by the lower house, but it was bogged down by resistance from senators who saw it as an obstacle to productive development in their provinces.

Thanks to the grassroots pressure, the senators had no choice but to approve the law, against a backdrop of a national deforestation rate six times higher than the world average, according to a report by the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN).

But despite the entry into force of the law, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranked Argentina among the countries with the largest forest area lost between 2010 and 2015. The list also includes countries in Africa and Asia and three in South America: Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Law 26,631 was an extraordinary case of participation by civil society in public policy, and today is an important tool for this country to meet its international commitments, in the fight against climate change and for the conservation of biodiversity.

The law recognises the environmental services provided by forests and instructs the provinces to carry out land-use planning and zoning in their forested areas, according to three categories.

Red areas are those of high conservation value that should not be transformed; yellow ones have medium value and can be used for sustainable activities; and green ones have low conservation value and can be transformed.

Argentina’s 23 provinces have already completed this process for a total of about 54 million hectares of forest, approximately 19 percent of the country’s land area.

In the face of rumors circulating recently in Argentina’s environmental circles, the national director of Forestry, Juan Pedro Cano, told IPS that the government does not intend to propose changing the law.

“On the contrary, we consider it a very positive law and we are working to improve its implementation,” Cano said.

“We have already created a trust fund to ensure that the national budget funds allocated to the Fund for the compensation of landowners who preserve their forests cannot be reassigned to other needs of the State, as happened in other years,” he added.

That fund should is to 0.3 percent of the national budget, according to the law, but the funds allocated to it have never come close to reaching that level, with a worrying downward trend seen in recent years, warned the FARN report.

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Caught Between Two Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caught-two-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:01:36 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153915 Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia. But home is far away, on the other side of the […]

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Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia.

But home is far away, on the other side of the world. They have been living in Cambodia for a number of years, against their will. They were deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to their country of origin, one completely unknown to them. Most have no or little knowledge of the Cambodian language, Khmer."Officially I'm Cambodian, but I don't feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don't want me there anymore." --Jock, 49

These American Cambodians belong to a group of more than 500 ‘deportees’ who have been sent back since 2002. They have lived the biggest part of their lives in the U.S. Their parents fled in the eighties, when Cambodia was torn apart by the genocidal Khmer Rouge and the following civil war. Between 1975 (start of the Khmer Rouge) and 1994 (end of the civil war) 158,000 Cambodians were allowed into the U.S.

“I was born in Thailand, in a refugee camp. Before I was deported, I had never visited Cambodia,” explains Chhean* (35). “I didn’t know nothing of this country. I didn’t speak Khmer. I grew in America, I am an American.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up on the margins of society. “Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority. It was a tough time trying to survive, there was a lot of violence. I had to protect myself. That’s how I ended up in a gang.”

“I made bad choices. I was a threat to society. I can’t make no excuses, I can only blame myself.” After Chhean finished his time in prison, he was deported by ICE.

Five Years for a Fistfight

Legal residents in the U.S. who have no citizenship and get convicted for a crime can be sent back to their country of origin. No appeal is possible. The nature of the crime is not taken into account. “Immigration came to my home to detain me,” remembers Jock* (49). “I once got a conviction for a fistfight at school. I was 18. Twenty years later I get deported for a fistfight.”

Jock recounts what happened to him with disbelief. “I have spent five years in a cell, they thought I was an escape risk. Five years! For a fistfight 20 years ago! For years I have been begging them: ‘Please deport me’.” His friend Chhean was also incarcerated before his flight to Cambodia, but ‘only’ for two years.

Jock has been living in Cambodia for six years. He didn’t know the country at all. “I cried a long time when I arrived here. I thought my life was over. Someone who robs a bank is released after 15 years in prison and can start over again. I can’t.”

The deported Cambodians have trouble finding work. This country has a high rate of unemployment. They speak the local language badly and lack the necessary skills. Cambodia has an agrarian economy, but they are city boys. They are also met with distrust. They dress and behave differently. In Cambodian culture, their tattoos are considered signs of serious crimes.

“I worked the first six years in the rice fields. That is simple but hard work. I couldn’t find anything else,” says a deported Cambodian who wishes to stay anonymous. Last year, he acquired a certificate to teach English. He works in a classroom now.

“In the U.S. I worked in construction, but here it makes very little money. So I became a farmer,” explains Jock. “When I’m picking mangos, I can stop thinking.”

Chhean has familiar problems. “When I arrived here, I suffered from panic attacks. And even now I’m not adapted yet. Officially I’m Cambodian, but I don’t feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don’t want me there anymore. Now, Cambodia is my ‘land of opportunity’. I have to make the best of it. But I don’t plan big things for my life anymore.”

Lasting Trauma

The U.S. government wants Cambodia to take back more of its ‘lost’ children. That is required by international law when Cambodians are deported. But the government in Phnom Penh is hesitant. These citizens have no sense of the culture and can never really integrate into society. Some have serious mental illnesses, says Jock.

“I know a mental ‘deportee’ in my neighborhood. He walks all day in the middle of the street. He doesn’t realize where he is, he thinks he is still in the U.S. They shouldn’t bring those people here.”

The families that found a new home in the U.S. in the eighties brought few belongings but many war traumas. “My parents survived famine and mass murder,” says the teacher. “They don’t talk about it much. They try to forget.”

Research by the Leitner Center in New York showed that 62 percent of Cambodian refugees in California suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fifty-two percent had severe depression. Many were in a state of shock and not able to take care of themselves or their children. They ended up in poor neighborhoods where crime was the norm.

For these specific circumstances, psychiatrists and lawyers say that refugees from Cambodia deserve special treatment. But President Donald Trump wants to increase the deportations. Some 1,900 are eligible for deportation, says ICE. In the “Kingdom of Wonder” – as Cambodians call their country – many refugees who return are confronted with alcohol and drug abuse. Many suffer from depression, and at least six deported Cambodians have committed suicide.

“I miss my three children (24, 18 and 13),” says Jock. “I call them once a week. I don’t tell them how I’m doing here. I don’t want them to worry.”

The teacher has a child in the U.S. as well. “I talk to her with Messenger. I can’t do much more. I can miss her as much as I like, it will not change a thing.”

Once deported, there is no way back. They can never visit the country where they grew up ever again. “Hell yeah! I would go back immediately if I could. Not tomorrow but today,” shouts Chhean jokingly.

His friend Jock has another view. “Once you have a criminal record in the U.S. they will never leave you in peace. I don’t want to go back. Period.”

*Last names omitted to protect the sources’ privacy.

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PPPs Likely to Undermine Public Health Commitmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 08:50:30 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153905 The United Nations Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being touted in financial circles as offering huge investment opportunities requiring trillions of dollars. In 67 low- and middle-income countries, achieving SDG 3 — healthy lives and well-being for all, at all ages — is estimated to require new investments increasing over time, […]

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Capacity-building support for developing countries to safeguard the public interest in terms of public health and especially, to ensure that no one is left behind, is essential. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR , Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being touted in financial circles as offering huge investment opportunities requiring trillions of dollars. In 67 low- and middle-income countries, achieving SDG 3 — healthy lives and well-being for all, at all ages — is estimated to require new investments increasing over time, from an initial $134 billion annually to $371 billion yearly by 2030, according to recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in The Lancet.

Selling PPPs
Deprived of fiscal and aid resources, none of these governments can finance such investments alone. The United Nations Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing estimated in 2014 that annual global savings (both public and private sources) were around US$22 trillion, while global financial assets were around US$218 trillion.

The third International Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in mid-2015 recommended ‘blended finance’ as well as other public private partnerships (PPPs) to pool public and private resources and expertise to achieve the SDGs. Development finance institutions (DFIs), particularly the World Bank, are the main cheerleaders for these magic bullets.

Sensing the new opportunity for mega profits, the private sector has embraced the SDGs. The World Economic Forum now actively promotes PPPs with DEVEX, a private-sector driven network of development experts. A recent DEVEX opinion claims that PPPs can unlock billions for health financing. It invokes some philanthropy driven global partnership success stories — such as the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiatives (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria — to claim that national level PPPs will have similar results.

A managed equipment services (MES) arrangement with GE Healthcare in Kenya is also cited as a success story, ignoring criticisms. For example, Dr. Elly Nyaim, head of the Kenya Medical Association, has pointed out that MES has not addressed basic problems of Kenya’s health system, such as inappropriate training and non-payment of salaries to frontline health workers, encouraging emigration of well-trained health professionals to developed countries, further worsening Kenya’s already difficult health dilemmas.

It should be obvious to all that private sector participation in the development process is hardly novel, having long contributed to investments, growth and innovation. Not-for-profit civil society organisations (CSOs), especially faith-based ones, have also been significant for decades in education and health. Thus, in many developing countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia, health and education outcomes are much better than what public expenditure alone could fund.

False claims
However, PPPs have a long and chequered history, especially in terms of ensuring access and equity, typically undermining the SDG’s overarching principle of “leaving no one behind”, including the SDG and WHO promise of universal health care. Also, partnerships with for-profit private entities have rarely yielded better fiscal outcomes, both in terms of finance and value for money (VfM).

Misleading claims regarding benefits and costs have been invoked to justify PPPs. Most claimed benefits of health PPPs do not stand up to critical scrutiny. As a policy tool, they are a typically inferior option to respond to infrastructure shortfalls in the face of budgetary constraints by moving expenditures off-budget and transferring costs to future governments as well as consumers and taxpayers.

Typically driven by political choices rather than real economic considerations, PPP incurred debt and risk are generally higher than for government borrowing and procurement. PPPs also appear to have limited innovation and raised transactions costs. PPP hospital building quality is not necessarily better, while facilities management services have generally reduced VfM compared to non-PPP hospitals. Underfunding and higher PPP costs lead to cuts in service provision to reduce deficits, harming public health.

Healthcare PPPs in low- and middle-income countries have raised concerns about: competition with other health programmes for funding, causing inefficiencies and wasting resources; discrepancies in costs and benefits between partners typically favouring the private sector; incompatibility with national health strategies; poor government negotiating positions vis-à-vis powerful pharmaceutical and other healthcare service companies from donor countries.

Perverted priorities

Rich and powerful private partners often reshape governmental and state-owned enterprise priorities and strategies, and redirect national health policies to better serve commercial interests and considerations. For example, relying on antiretroviral drugs from PPPs has resulted in conflicts with national authorities, generic suppliers and consumer interests, which have undermined health progress. Donor-funded PPPs are typically unsustainable, eventually harming national health strategies, policies, capacities and capabilities.

PPPs may divert domestic resources from national priorities, and thus undermine public health due to financial constraints they cause. Such redirection of investment exacerbates health disparities, adversely affecting vulnerable groups. Health workers often prefer to work for better funded foreign programmes, undermining the public sector.

PPPs can thus lead governments to abdicate their responsibilities for promoting and protecting citizens’ health. Partnership arrangements with the private sector are not subject to public oversight. Therefore, selecting private partners, setting targets and formulating operating guidelines are not transparent, they only aid in creating more scope for corruption.

PPPs are certainly not magic bullets to achieve the SDGs. While PPPs can mobilize private finance, this can also be achieved at lower cost through government borrowing. Instead of uncritically promoting blended finance and PPPs, the international community should provide capacity building support to developing countries to safeguard the public interest, especially equity, access and public health, to ensure that no one is left behind.

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40% of India’s Thermal Power Plants in Water-Scarce Areas, Threatening Shutdownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 06:57:25 +0000 Tianyi Luo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153902 Tianyi Luo, World Resources Institute

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Tuticorin thermal power station. Credit: Begoon/Wikimedia Commons Water shortages are hurting India’s ability to produce power.

By Tianyi Luo
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

New WRI research finds that 40 percent of the country’s thermal power plants are located in areas facing high water stress, a problem since these plants use water for cooling. Scarce water is already hampering electricity generation in these regions—14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utilities experienced at least one shutdown due to water shortages between 2013-2016, costing the companies $1.4 billion.

It’s an issue that’s only poised to worsen unless the country takes action—70 percent of India’s thermal power plants will face high water stress by 2030 thanks to climate change and increased demands from other sectors.

Billions of Tons of Freshwater, Consumed

Thermal power—power that relies on fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear energy—provides India with 83 percent of its total electricity. While these power plants fail to disclose how much water they’re using in their operations, WRI developed a new methodology using satellite images and other data to calculate their water use.

What’s the Difference Between Water Withdrawal and Consumption?

Water withdrawal: The total amount of water that is diverted from a water source (e.g. surface water, groundwater) for use.

Water consumption: The portion of water that is not returned to the original source after being withdrawn.

Much of the water withdrawn by plants is returned to the lakes and ponds from which it came, but a lot is also consumed, and not returned to its original source. We found that almost 90 percent of India’s thermal power generation depends on freshwater for cooling, and the industry is only growing thirstier.

Thanks to increased energy demand and the growing popularity of freshwater-recirculating plants, which consume the most water of any thermal plant, freshwater consumption from Indian thermal utilities grew by 43 percent from 2011-2016, from 1.5 to 2.1 billion cubic meters a year.

To put this in perspective, India’s total domestic water consumption in 2010 was about 7.5 billion cubic meters, according to the Aqueduct Global Water Risk Atlas. That means power plants drank about 20 percent as much water as India’s 1.3 billion citizens use for washing dishes, bathing, drinking and more.

40 Percent of Thirsty Plants Are in Water-Stressed Areas

More than a third of India’s freshwater-dependent plants are located in areas of high or extremely high water stress. These plants have, on average, a 21 percent lower utilization rate than their counterparts located in low or medium water-stress regions—lack of water simply prevents them from running at full capacity.

Even when controlling the comparison analysis by unit age, fuel type and plant capacity, the observation was always the same: Plants in low- and medium-stress areas are more able to realize their power output potential than those in high water-stress areas.

Scarce Water Dries Up Revenue

There are practical and financial implications of power plants’ thirst. Between 2013 and 2016, India’s thermal plants failed to meet their daily electricity generation targets 61 percent of the time due to forced power plant outages.

The reasons ranged from equipment failure to fuel shortages. Water shortages were the fifth-largest reason for all forced outages—the largest environmental reason.

In 2016 alone, water shortages cost India about 14 terawatt-hours of potential thermal power generation, canceling out more than 20 percent of the growth in the country’s total electricity generation from 2015.

The Way Forward

As India develops, water competition will continue to grow and climate change will likely disrupt predictable water supply. Thermal utilities will become even more vulnerable to water shortages, power outages and lost revenue.

But there’s a better path forward: Upgrading cooling systems, improving plant efficiency, and ultimately shifting toward water-free renewables like solar photovoltaics and wind can all curb water risks to power generation.

It’s worth noting that the government of India already has plans in place that give reason for hope, such as the notification on power plant water withdrawal limits and the “40/60” renewable energy development plan. If these ambitious policies are enacted and enforced, our estimates show that India will save 12.4 billion cubic meters of freshwater from being withdrawn by power plants. That’s a year’s worth of showers for 120 million people – more than live in the Philippines.

But change won’t happen overnight. Even with proactive policies in place, the key lies in their implementation. In the coming years, the Indian government, utility companies and international investors all have a role to play in making the power sector more resilient to water risks.

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Expansion of Soy Resurrects Key Railway Line in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:44:44 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153893 The railroad can contribute to the economy, making transportation cheaper, but it is unlikely to foment equitable development in and of itself, apart from facing complex construction obstacles in countries like Brazil. The North-South Railway (FNS) is an excellent example. Thirty years after the start of its construction and three years after the central stretch […]

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A train and biofuel storage tanks seen in the yard of the North-South Railway in Porto Nacional, final point of the stretch in operation since 2013, which is using only half of its capacity, most of it to carry soybeans and by-products for export. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A train and biofuel storage tanks seen in the yard of the North-South Railway in Porto Nacional, final point of the stretch in operation since 2013, which is using only half of its capacity, most of it to carry soybeans and by-products for export. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
PORTO NACIONAL, Brazil, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

The railroad can contribute to the economy, making transportation cheaper, but it is unlikely to foment equitable development in and of itself, apart from facing complex construction obstacles in countries like Brazil.

The North-South Railway (FNS) is an excellent example. Thirty years after the start of its construction and three years after the central stretch began to operate, its viability is uncertain, even though it runs across an area of expanding soy production, which requires large-scale logistics to export.

“It only strengthens agribusiness, it offers nothing to family farms but environmental impacts,” said Messias Vieira Barbosa, one of the coordinators of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Tocantins, a state in north-central Brazil, crossed from end to end by the FNS.

Nor does it benefit the population in general, since it does not provide the passenger transport demanded by a movement to that end, said the activist, a geographer with postgraduate studies on land reform.

Tocantins is a new agricultural frontier, where soy accelerates the concentration of land in the hands of a few landowners, in a process that will intensify with the railway, whose primary function is to transport grains to the northern port of Itaqui to be exported across the Atlantic Ocean.

But even those who benefit directly complain about this new means of transport.

“The freight is still expensive, farmers are not happy because it has not brought down their costs,” complained Mauricio Buffon, president of the Association of Soy and Corn Producers of the State of Tocantins (Aprosoja).

A sea of soy is seen near the city of Porto Nacional, on the right bank of the Tocantins River. The expansion of soy in Tocantins resurrected the North-South Railway, designed in the 1980s with the abstract objective of integrating railway lines east to west, crossing the centre of Brazil, which had little production at that time. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A sea of soy is seen near the city of Porto Nacional, on the right bank of the Tocantins River. The expansion of soy in Tocantins resurrected the North-South Railway, designed in the 1980s with the abstract objective of integrating railway lines east to west, crossing the centre of Brazil, which had little production at that time. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

“It is necessary to end the monopoly” of the concessionaire that operates the railway, said the farmer, who moved eight years ago to the city of Porto Nacional from Mato Grosso, the neighbouring state to the west, that produces the most soy and corn in Brazil.

“I came here because the land is cheaper,” he explained. Despite this, Tocantins is not producing soy at lower final prices than Mato Grosso, and the railway did not help in that, he lamented.

Modifying the existing model or making it more flexible, opening the rails to independent logistics operators, is necessary to boost rail transport in Brazil, currently limited to 25 percent of total cargo, and even to reactivate lines that are now abandoned because the companies that control them are not interested in using them.

For the North-South railway, change is indispensable because it is a rail line designed as a “backbone” of the networks in the centre of the country, depending on other lines to deliver their cargo to the port.

“From the middle of nowhere to nowhere” would be its route, according to the sarcastic reaction by experts and the press to the announcement of the project by then president José Sarney in 1986.

At that time the states that it crossed, Maranhão, Tocantins and Goiás, did not have production levels to justify a railway in any foreseeable future. Soy was a crop almost unknown in those territories.

Despite everything, construction began in 1987 and then faltered, with lengthy interruptions, allegations of corruption and decay of stretches already built. But it became a reality along two stretches that total 1,574 km.

It seemed destined to become another white elephant among the many megaprojects that have failed in the last ten years in Brazil, but it started to make sense with the agricultural boom, led by soy, in Tocantins and neighbouring states, such as Bahia, Goiás and Maranhão.

In 1988, Tocantins produced only 47,000 tons of soy, according to the National Supply Company (CONAB) under the Ministry of Agriculture. Twenty years later, by 2008, it climbed to 911,000 tons, and this year the total reached 2.82 million tons.

This is little compared to the 30.5 million tons produced in Mato Grosso, whose exports are transported by truck traveling about 2,000 km to Santos Port, to the southeast, or just over 1,000 km north to Miritituba, a river port from where they continue by waterway to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The current demand (in Tocantins) still does not make the railway financially viable,” but having that infrastructure promotes new productive investments; it depends on how it is managed, said Lilian Bracarense, a professor at the Federal University of Tocantins (UFT) who has a PhD in transport.

Milton Cavichioli Junior, business manager of Granol’s industrial plant in Porto Nacional, estimates the savings made possible with the FNS at 20 percent. That is why the company exports soy bran by train and uses trucks only when there is an express delivery.

Soy producer Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers, all from the extreme south of Brazil, grow the crop on more than 6,000 hectares in Tocantins, after 15 years in the state of Bahia, where the lack of electricity and roads frustrated their goals. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Soy producer Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers, all from the extreme south of Brazil, grow the crop on more than 6,000 hectares in Tocantins, after 15 years in the state of Bahia, where the lack of electricity and roads frustrated their goals. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Granol can be an important user of the FNS because it has another plant in Anapolis, next to the rails, and demands double-track railway, since it buys grains and sells bran and biodiesel, he said.

The logistics in Porto Nacional have an additional cost for those who cross the Tocantins River to transport their products to the railway on the left bank.

The bridge built in 1979 withstands only 30 tons. Today’s large trucks, which carry more than twice that weight, have to go over a sturdier bridge in Palmas, the capital of Tocantins, 60 km away.

“A new bridge will be built in 2018 and will be completed in 1,000 days,” said Olimpio Mascarenhas, secretary of Production and Development in the Porto Nacional city government.

“What increases costs is not the distance, but crossing Palmas in limited hours and at the risk of fines,” complained Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers has grown more than 6,000 hectares of soy on lands that they own or lease, 20 km from the city of Porto Nacional, for the past five years.

The brothers, who migrated from the extreme south of Brazil, lived for 15 years in the state of Bahia, east of Tocantins. “We used to suffer there, without roads or electricity; this is the best place in the world,” he said, praising the roads and the railroad that are now available.

But he pointed out obstacles to growing soy in the low-lying state of Tocantins, about 260 m above sea level in average, which is less than the ideal altitude that soy needs, and the presence of nematodes or roundworms, a disease still without proven remedy.

Solutions may be on the way, as five agricultural research companies are carrying out studies in Porto Nacional and will be able to overcome these problems and diversify production, especially of fruit, he said.

And according to Mascarenhas, the future of the municipality is promising, because it has a great deal of land for agricultural expansion, water to irrigate three crops a year, people trained by three local universities and ideal logistics, with railways, an airport and roads within a radius of 60 km.

But Tocantins will not be “another Mato Grosso”, where soy dominated the countryside, displacing peasants and food production. “Here family agriculture is still resisting: 520 agrarian settlements were created with 28,448 families, from 1987 to 2015,” said Messias Barbosa.

“It depends on public policies to diversify the economy, which are still timid,” argued Thiago de Oliveira, who has a PhD in Regional Development from the UFT. He pointed out that the Belém-Brasilia highway, inaugurated in 1960, dictated the direction taken by Tocantins, with landowners taking over land and displacing peasants to the cities.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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From Seedling to Shade: Planting Trees in South Sudan’s Displacement Siteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/seedling-shade-planting-trees-south-sudans-displacement-sites/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seedling-shade-planting-trees-south-sudans-displacement-sites http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/seedling-shade-planting-trees-south-sudans-displacement-sites/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 19:37:05 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153880 Helping improve internally displaced people’s living conditions

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Koang Pech, an internally displaced person and gardener living and working in Bentiu, South Sudan. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017

By International Organization for Migration
JUBA, South Sudan, Jan 15 2018 (IOM)

With sweltering heat — temperatures often over 40 degrees Celsius — and either extreme humidity or dust, life in the UN protection of civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu, South Sudan, is harsh by any measure. Bentiu hosts the largest PoC site in the country, with a population of more than 112,000 people, many of whom have been seeking protection in the site since the conflict erupted in December 2013.

Aerial view of Bentiu PoC. Credit: IOM/Brendan Bannon

While surrounded by trees and swamps, the 1.6 million square metres of land that make up the site are bare out of necessity. With the congestion and large population tree cover is hard to find as the need for space for shelters, health clinics and other basic infrastructure has led to deforestation. And in turn, the lack of trees has then led to increased wind speeds and further agitation of dust during the dry season.

Seedlings in the tree nursery. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017

As part of an effort to improve living conditions for the displaced population in Bentiu and take responsibility for leaving behind a healthy environment, IOM is implementing a small pilot project to develop a tree nursery in the site. Under the project, supported by the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and the European Commission Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), IOM has produced 1,000 tree seedlings and saplings and already distributed over 300 to the community.

Koang watering the seedling in the the tree nursery. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017

Koang Pech, who lives in the displacement site, is the gardener working on the project:
“We are cultivating local trees such as mango, guava, neem, dinkipesha, ban, keer, meth, lemon, bannes, powpow, dhuras, chokas, etc. Some of them can reach up to 25 metres. We are distributing baby trees to public facilities such as schools, clinics and communication centers. I am teaching people how to plant them, how to make the hole, how to plant it, how often to water it and so on…In the nursery, we first plant the seeds in discarded food bags with cow dung until they are ready for real soil.”

The initial distribution focuses on communal spaces; in the future, the tree nursery will integrate training on growing and planting to encourage participation at the household level.
“Trees near clinics and schools will help with the heat and provide shade when the sun is high up. When the tree is big enough, kids can have classes outside under its shade. People will be happy,” Koang explains. “When the baby trees grow, they will give to the community relief from the heat, shade to rest and a place to meet friends. Some trees will give them fruits like guava and mango, and direction. You know, it is easier to find your way around when you recognize a tree, you can see it from far away. When there are enough trees, they will attract the rain, this is how nature works.”

Koang holds a new seedling. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017

The 112,000 people living in the Bentiu PoC site are among the 1.9 million South Sudanese displaced within the borders of South Sudan — forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2013. Humanitarian conditions continue to worsen across the country, with an estimated 7 million people in need of assistance this year due to conflict, displacement, food insecurity, a deteriorating economy and limited access to basic services.

The Bentiu tree nursery. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017

Bentiu PoC site due to concerns for their personal protection, IOM camp management remains dedicated to ensuring dignified living conditions at the site until individuals feel it is safe enough to return home. Though small, this project is helping return a sense of normalcy and relief to lives greatly disrupted.

Koang re-uses food bags for planting the trees. Credit: Amanda Nero/IOM 2017



This story was posted by Ashley McLaughlin the IOM Communications Officer based in South Sudan.

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Sustainable Energy Critical for Achieving Overall Goals of Paris Climate Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 16:06:58 +0000 Miroslav http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153865 Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi

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Miroslav Lajčák, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi. Credit: UN Photo

By Miroslav Lajčák
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The Paris Agreement ushered in a new global approach to climate change. At the core of this agreement are the Nationally Determined Contributions. We are now implementing these pledges.

Over the last few days we have heard much about challenges and opportunities. Challenges are nothing new. It is how we respond that determines our fate.

That being said, the size and extent of the climate change threat is new. It is arguably the biggest challenge humanity faces today. This means that we must act urgently and seize opportunities quickly. One such opportunity is renewable energy.

We are now implementing the pledges. And we are more than halfway to the 2020 finish line. There will be checkpoints along the way. Later this year, there will be the 2018 facilitative dialogue. This is a much-needed chance to assess how far we have come and how much further we have to go.

We already know that the current pledges are not enough to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. We have the tools, the plan and will submit new and more ambitious pledges in 2020. But we need urgent action now.

So where do we stand today?

First, access to energy remains a major development concern. The importance of access to modern and affordable energy lies in the impact it has on people’s lives.

Billions of people around the world still lack access to affordable and modern energy. For example, in Africa just under 50% of the population had access to electricity.

The energy challenge is many-sided. But with the right energy policies we can provide energy to everyone without creating additional burden on our planet. Many developing countries are investing in low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency measures. This can ensure that economic growth is not coupled with pressure on the environment. Likewise, the share of renewable energy in the mix is growing steadily.

To make this transition to sustainable energy, many countries need support –such as capacity building and transfer of technology. Inclusion of renewable energy plans in nationally determined contributions can help attract the financing needed to implement them. Which brings me to my next point:

Nationally determined contributions are critical tools for saving our planet.

As we are all aware, the current pledges will carry us over the 2 degree Celsius precipice, and far beyond, our 1.5 degree aspiration. On one hand, we must commend the 165 countries that made pledges. These pledges form a good basis for action. But at the same time, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that they are far from enough. We should consider the pledges as a floor rather than as a ceiling.

We need urgent and far-reaching pre-2020 action. Time is running out for the woman losing her livelihood to climate-induced desertification. For the child who will have to abandon her home to a rapidly-rising sea level.

And for the communities that will have to build back only to be washed away again. Time is already up for many lives lost in heatwaves, droughts, extreme weather events and public health crises – all due to climate change.

Simply put: We must do what we have pledged to do. We must pledge to do more. And we must take urgent action to fulfil these promises. This is our joint and individual responsibility to our people and our planet.

My third point is that SDG 7 is pivotal for the achievement of Agenda 2030. It calls on us to provide energy for all by 2030, and to do so sustainably. This means increasing access, efficiency, renewables and the means with which to do it. Sustainable energy is also critical for achieving the overall goal of the Paris Agreement – to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Development does not necessarily equal more carbon emissions. In fact, sustainable development, creating a decent life for all on a sustainable planet, involves less carbon emissions. Instead of a vicious cycle involving development for some and increased carbon emissions, we have the chance to create a “virtuous circle” of raising ambition, development and renewable energy deployment.

In conclusion, we live in a time of challenges, opportunities and high stakes. Our failure to act decisively and unequivocally at this critical moment in history will determine our future.

The Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals are our plans. The climate pledges manifest our collective promise to the people of this world, and it is the lives of these people that should spur us into action.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153861 Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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UN Chief Calls for Collective Global Response to Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:53:41 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153850 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

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António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2018 (IPS)

I am very pleased to present this report, “Making Migration Work For All”, which serves as my principal input to the zero draft of the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The adoption of this Compact stands as one of our most important collective priorities for 2018.

As we look forward to the zero draft, I would like to commend your efforts to date under the wise stewardship of Mexico and Switzerland, aided by the President of the General Assembly and my Special Representative, Louise Arbour. Allow me to express a very deep gratitude to Louise Arbour and her team – your extraordinary contribution was absolutely vital for me to be able to present a report that, I hope, you will find both bold and constructive.

We have an opportunity to fashion, for the first time, a truly global response to migration. It is an opportunity to maximize the contribution that millions of migrants are already making to our societies and to agree a set of actions to ensure that the rights of all migrants are fully respected.

My report describes the reality of migration today. It outlines what a system of safe, orderly and regular migration could realistically look like. It identifies key challenges and possible solutions.

And it calls for more concerted collective action to deal with the unbearable limbo in which many migrants find themselves trapped.

Let me emphasize: migration is a positive global phenomenon. It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline.

It is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies. But the majority of migrants live and work legally.

Unfortunately, others live in the shadows, unprotected by the law and unable to contribute fully to society. And a desperate minority put their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse.

Globally, migration remains poorly managed. The impact can be seen in the humanitarian crises affecting people on the move; and in the human rights violations suffered by those living in slavery or enduring degrading working conditions.

It can be seen, too, in the political impact of public perception that wrongly sees migration as out of control. The consequences include increased mistrust and policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement.

In my report, I call for us to focus on the overwhelming positives of migration and to use facts not prejudice as the basis for addressing its challenges. Above all, I urge a respectful discourse that places our collective humanity at the centre of the debate.

Migrants make a major contribution to international development – both by their work and by sending remittances to their home countries. Remittances added up to nearly $600 billion last year, three times all development aid.

The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants.

States need to strengthen the rule of law underpinning how they manage and protect migrants – for the benefit of their economies, their societies and migrants themselves.

Authorities that erect major obstacles to migration – or place severe restrictions on migrants’ work opportunities – inflict needless economic self-harm, as they impose barriers to having their labour needs met in an orderly and legal fashion.

Worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration. Aspiring migrants, denied legal pathways to travel, inevitably fall back on irregular methods. This not only puts them in vulnerable positions, but also undermines governments’ authority itself.

The best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration. This will remove incentives for individuals to break the rules, while better meeting the needs of markets for foreign labour.

It will also aid in efforts to clamp down on smugglers and traffickers and to assist their victims. Simultaneously, development cooperation policies must take human mobility into account.

It is essential to provide more opportunities for people to be able to live in dignity in their own countries and regions. Migration should be an act of hope, not of despair.

We must also address the drama we witness in mixed flows of refugees and migrants. What happens all too often with these movements represents a humanitarian tragedy and an abdication of our human rights commitments.

They are reflective of acute policy failures: of emergency response; of conflict prevention; of good governance; of development; and of international solidarity. I call for greater international cooperation to remove those failures and to protect vulnerable migrants.

In parallel, we must re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime in line with international law. My report addresses a number of elements for consideration in shaping the Global Compact on Migration.

I will highlight three: the need for action, the need for engagement and the need for a UN that is fit for purpose.

First, our focus must be on implementation. The past decade has seen an enriching development of both our understanding of migration and its grounding in human rights. It is time now to build on these declarations rather than simply reiterate them.

Second, everyone has a part to play. On this, let me pay particular credit to the incomparable contribution of Peter Sutherland, whose death last week is such a loss for us all.

Improving the management of migration is pre-eminently a matter of State responsibility. But it demands, also, the knowledge, capacity and commitment of many others.

The consultation phase of the Global Compact has benefitted hugely from the participation of a wide range of actors.

Municipalities, parliaments, civil society, the private sector, regional organizations, the media, academia and migrants themselves all have vital roles. Moving forward, I urge you to maximize the space for their contributions.

Third, as the United Nations finally ensures that migration is an issue squarely on its agenda, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves whether we are best organized and equipped to support the Compact’s implementation.

For you, the Member States, this will require consideration of how to ensure ongoing review of the impact of the Global Compact. What we focus on in 2018 may not be what we need to focus on in 10 or 15 years’ time.

We will also need to reflect on how best to ensure oversight of migration within the UN system. There are many fora addressing migration, but none with comprehensive oversight. This merits consideration.

I am committed to ensuring that the UN system is best organized to ensure that it can support you in following through on the Compact.

In my report, I stress my determination to strengthen how we work on this issue, consistent with my proposed management reforms and strengthening of the UN development system, taking full advantage of the IOM’s important and welcome move, in 2016, towards the UN System.

It is a phenomenon that touches on all our collective priorities – from the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals to the promotion and protection of peace and universal human rights.

I urge all Member States to engage openly and actively in the negotiations ahead.

I encourage you to work towards the adoption of a solution-oriented Global Compact on Migration at the International Conference in Morocco later this year.

I stand ready to assist however best I can.

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Tocantins, a River of Many Dams in Central Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 02:12:26 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153844 Tocantins, the newest of Brazil’s 26 states, which was created in 1988 to seek its own paths to development in central Brazil, fell into the common plight of expanding borders, based on soy and hydroelectricity. The area owes its name to a river that crosses the state from south to north, but which has been […]

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Access stairway to the Tocantins River in the central Brazilian state of Tocantins, which no longer has flowing water since it was dammed to generate electricity, mostly to be used in other parts of the country, and which contributes very little to local development. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Access stairway to the Tocantins River in the central Brazilian state of Tocantins, which no longer has flowing water since it was dammed to generate electricity, mostly to be used in other parts of the country, and which contributes very little to local development. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
PALMAS and PORTO NACIONAL, Brazil, Jan 12 2018 (IPS)

Tocantins, the newest of Brazil’s 26 states, which was created in 1988 to seek its own paths to development in central Brazil, fell into the common plight of expanding borders, based on soy and hydroelectricity.

The area owes its name to a river that crosses the state from south to north, but which has been converted into a sequence of dams to generate electricity, almost entirely for other states. With no industries and with a population of just 1.5 million, consumption in this state is very limited.

“The lake is beautiful, but it left us without the tourism potential of the river and the electricity is more expensive for us than elsewhere,” complained journalist and writer Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, which he founded in 1987 in Porto Nacional.

The Lajeado hydroelectric power plant, with a capacity of 902.5 megawatts and which is officially named after former member of parliament Luis Eduardo Magalhães, who died in 1998, submerged beaches, crops and houses with its 630 square km reservoir, along a 170-km stretch of the Tocantins river.

“We had beaches in the dry season, islands of white sand that attracted many tourists”, and it was all lost when the water level rose, Rodrigues lamented, at his home in the city’s historical district, a few metres from the shore of the lake.

The journalist, who is the author of 12 books, chronicles, memoirs and novels, is a privileged witness to the transformations in Tocantins, especially in Porto Nacional, the cultural cradle of the state, with a population of about 53,000 people.

His historical novels show the violence of old landowners, the “colonels” appointed by the National Guard, a paramilitary militia that was disbanded in 1922, who dominated the region of Tocantins, as well as the advance in education brought by Dominican priests who came from France in 1886 to spread Catholicism from their base in Porto Nacional.

“They brought knowledge from Europe, they created schools, turning Porto Nacional into a cultural centre, and today a university town, with three universities and students from all over the country,” said the journalist who studied Communication and History in Goiania, capital of the neighboring state of Goiás.

Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, from Porto Nacional, a cultural and university centre in central Brazil with a population of 53,000 located on the right bank of the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, from Porto Nacional, a cultural and university centre in central Brazil with a population of 53,000 located on the right bank of the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The river, which was part and parcel of the city, more than doubled in width when it became a lake, but now it is farther away from the population. Now there are ravines between the coastal avenue and where the water starts, accessed only through two stairways.

Some old families from the city were resettled away from the shore of the lake and indemnified, but most of the displaced were peasant farmers who lived on the other side, on the left bank, where the reservoir was extended the most across the plain.

Anesia Marques Fernandes, 59, is one of those victims.

“We lost the river, the beaches, the tourists, the nearby fish and the fertile lands which we sowed in the dry season,” recalled the peasant farmer, who was resettled along with her mother 21 km from the river in 2000, before the reservoir was filled the following year.

“My mother is the one who suffered the most and still suffers today, at 80 years of age,” after having raised her five children on her own in the flooded rural community, Carreira, because her husband died when she was pregnant with their fifth child, Fernandes said.

In the Flor de la Sierra Resettlement community, home to 49 displaced families, the four hectares of land that were given to them are not even a tenth of what they had before, she said. “But the houses are better,” she acknowledged.

The most important thing, however, was community life, the solidarity among “neighbours who helped each other, shared the meat of a butchered cow. We were one big family that was broken up,” she lamented. In the resettlement community there are only three families from her old village.

Bernardete Batista de Araujo stands in front of the house where she was relocated in Palmas, together with others displaced by the Lajeado hydroelectric dam in central Brazil. The high walls and a street muddy because of the rain make her miss Vila Canela, her old village on an island that no longer exists on the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Bernardete Batista de Araujo stands in front of the house where she was relocated in Palmas, together with others displaced by the Lajeado hydroelectric dam in central Brazil. The high walls and a street muddy because of the rain make her miss Vila Canela, her old village on an island that no longer exists on the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

That is the same complaint voiced by Maria do Socorro Araujo, a 56-year-old retired teacher, displaced from Canela, a submerged beach community, 10 km from Palmas, the capital of the state of Tocantins.

“The community was fragmented, it dispersed, it forgot its culture, its unity and its way of live,” said Araujo, who was resettled in 2001 on block 508 in the north of Palmas, with her husband and three children.

“We lost our land, tranquillity and freedom, there were no fences there; here we live behind high walls,” complained her neighbour Bernardete Batista de Araujo, referring to the house where she was resettled in the capital.

She is pleased, however, to have a roof over her head, a solid three-bedroom house, better than her rustic dwelling in Canela, which had been rebuilt after the river flooded and destroyed it in 1980.

In her small yard, she now tries to compensate for the loss of the many fruit trees in the village flooded by the reservoir, planting papaya, mango and pineapple.

“The bad thing here is the dust in the dry season and the mud when it rains because of the unpaved roads,” a long-standing complaint by the inhabitants of La Cuadra, who are demanding that the road be paved.

Palmas, with a current population of 290,000, is an artificial city, planned according to the model of Brasilia, with wide avenues and squares to accommodate large numbers of cars and blocks arranged by numbers and cardinal points.

Founded in 1989, it took years of construction before becoming in practice the administrative capital of Tocantins.

Antonio Alves de Oliveira, 63, is proud to have been “the third taxi driver” in Palmas, when the city, in its second year, “had nothing but dust and huge numbers of mosquitoes.”

“Fried fly” was the nickname given to an improvised restaurant, he recalled.

Where Palmas is located, the Tocantins River now has an 8.4-km bridge which crosses the reservoir – almost eight times the width before the construction of the Lajeado dam, 50 km downstream (to the north).

The environmental impact study carried out by Investco, the company that built the Lajeado hydropower plant between 1999 and 2001 and has a concession for 35 years, registered only 1,526 families, of which 997 are rural, directly affected by the dam and reservoir.

But Judite da Rocha, local coordinator of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), believes that the real number is close to 8,000 families.

Many groups were not recognised as affected, such as the Xerente indigenous people, boatmen, fishermen, potters, dredgers who extracted sand from the river and seasonal workers, such as “barraqueros” who set up stands to sell beach products in the tourist season, she argued.

But the “worst and most complex situation” is that of the Estreito hydroelectric plant, inaugurated in 2012 in the north of the state of Tocantins, with an installed capacity of 1,087 megawatts.

There are “almost 1,000 families displaced and without compensation”, scattered in seven camps, so that the total number of people affected could reach 12,000, according to Rocha.

MAB estimates that there are 25,000 families in total who suffer the consequences of the hydroelectric power plants built in the state of Tocantins, four of which are on the Tocantins River. Added to three other large plants built in other states, the Tocantins River has a generation capacity of 12,785 megawatts.

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UN Urges Comprehensive Approach to Sexuality Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-urges-comprehensive-approach-sexuality-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-urges-comprehensive-approach-sexuality-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-urges-comprehensive-approach-sexuality-education/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:31:18 +0000 UNESCO http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153812 Close to 10 years after its first edition, a fully updated International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education published today by UNESCO advocates quality comprehensive sexuality education to promote health and well-being, respect for human rights and gender equality, and empowers children and young people to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. “Based on the latest […]

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By UNESCO
PARIS, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

Close to 10 years after its first edition, a fully updated International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education published today by UNESCO advocates quality comprehensive sexuality education to promote health and well-being, respect for human rights and gender equality, and empowers children and young people to lead healthy, safe and productive lives.

“Based on the latest scientific evidence, the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education reaffirms the position of sexuality education within a framework of human rights and gender equality,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “It promotes structured learning about sexuality and relationships in a manner that is positive and centred on the best interest of the young person. By outlining the essential components of effective sexuality education programmes, the Guidance enables national authorities to design comprehensive curricula that will have a positive impact on young people’s health and well-being.”

The Technical Guidance is designed to assist education policy makers in all countries design accurate and age-appropriate curricula for children and young people aged 5 – 18+.

Based on a review of the current status of sexuality education around the world and drawing on best practices in the various regions, the Guidance notably demonstrates that sexuality education:

• helps young people become more responsible in their attitude and behaviour regarding sexual and reproductive health
• is essential to combat the school dropout of girls due to early or forced marriage, teenage pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health issues
• is necessary because in some parts of the world, two out of three girls reported having no idea of what was happening to them when they began menstruating and pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second cause of death among 15 to 19-year olds
• does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour, or STI/HIV infection rates. It also presents evidence showing that abstinence-only programmes fail to prevent early sexual initiation, or reduce the frequency of sex and number of partners among the young.

The publication identifies an urgent need for quality comprehensive sexuality education to:

• provide information and guidance to young people about the transition from childhood to adulthood and the physical, social and emotional challenges they face.
• tackle the challenges posed by sexual and reproductive health issues, which are particularly difficult during puberty, including access to contraception, early pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV and AIDS
• raise awareness of HIV prevention and transmission, of which only 34 per cent of young people around the world can demonstrate accurate knowledge
• complement or counter the large body of material of variable quality that young people find on the internet, and help them face increasingly common instances of cyberbullying.

The Guidance was produced in collaboration with UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Can Uganda Reduce Financial Exclusion to 5% in 5 Years?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:06:11 +0000 Nathan Were http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153810 Nathan Were, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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A financially excluded smallholder farmer in northern Uganda opens the lock box where he keeps his savings. Credit: Allison Shelley for CGAP

By Nathan Were
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

In October 2017, Uganda launched a new five-year National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The strategy seeks to reduce financial exclusion from 15 to 5 percent by 2022 by ensuring that all Ugandans have access to and use a broad range of quality and affordable financial services.

But what are some of Uganda’s key challenges, and how is the strategy supposed to achieve this ambitious goal?

Uganda has made a lot of progress in financial inclusion as a result of financial sector reforms that started in the 1990s, such as interest rate liberation, reductions in directed credit and legal and regulatory changes. These reforms have improved people’s access to financial services through banks, regulated microfinance institutions and mobile financial services providers (FSPs).

According to FinScope 2013, 54 percent of Ugandans are now formally financially included, while 32 percent use informal financial services like savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs).

These are important gains, but Uganda still faces significant financial inclusion challenges. Here are a few of those challenges and some thoughts on how the new strategy aims to tackle them.

Reduce access barriers to financial services

According to the 2013 FinScope Survey, only 16 percent of Ugandans live within 1 km of a point of service for a bank. The situation is better when it comes to mobile money, as 54 percent of the population lives within 1 km of a point of service. Yet even when people make it to a bank branch or mobile money agent, there are other barriers to confront, particularly in rural areas.

These include know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, lack of liquidity at agents, GSM network coverage and high interest rates that can range from 22 to 25 percent per annum. Uganda’s new strategy takes aim at these challenges with an emphasis on making it easier for youth (ages 15 – 17) to open accounts.

KYC is especially difficult in Uganda, so it is nice to see that the strategy calls for an electronic payments gateway to facilitate digital KYC. In 2016, CGAP’s nationally representative smallholder household survey found that only 61 percent of smallholder families had a national ID. Current KYC rules also make it difficult for small businesses, many of which are unregistered, to become merchants, further limiting the growth of the digital financial services ecosystem. Digital KYC will enable FSPs to access businesses’ and individuals’ identity information.

The government’s recognition that a one-size-fits-all KYC requirement doesn’t work is a positive development and a promise that we might see tiered, custom KYC requirements for excluded segments.

Build up the digital infrastructure

Roughly 74 percent of Ugandans live in sparsely populated rural areas where FSPs do not have an incentive to build costly brick-and-mortar branches. The lack of competition in these areas means the rural poor often face limited access to financial services, high transaction fees, poor customer service and loss of money through fake financial institutions.

Uganda plans to address these gaps by supporting companies to provide low-cost, interoperable digital services. Interoperability will make payments easier and produce cost efficiencies for providers. Uganda will also encourage financial-sector players to design customer-friendly interfaces for products and services, such as USSD code menus in local languages.

The strategy’s focus on simple user interfaces and on educating customers throughout the customer journey will be key to increasing the use of digital financial services, especially given the low levels of digital literacy in Uganda. The focus on USSD is especially important given the low smartphone penetration. However, the issue of mobile money transaction fees needs to be addressed, as it remains one of the biggest barriers in mobile money use cases.

Deepen and broaden formal savings, investment and insurance use

According to Uganda’s National Social Security Fund, 11 million Ugandans (26 percent of the population) don’t have any form of social security. Insurance penetration is also low at just under 3 percent, and the ratio of domestic savings to GDP is only 13 percent. These challenges mean that many Ugandans have few ways to deal with financial shocks, such as poor harvests or family illnesses.

The new financial inclusion strategy proposes a host of strategies to tackle these challenges, from adopting a national policy on insurance and pension sector liberalization to strengthening rural financial intermediaries through regulation. SACCOs can become strong delivery mechanisms for reaching people in rural areas, but they face liquidity challenges, governance issues, low skills capacity, fraud and political interference. Limited innovation in products is also a major challenge. FSPs will need support to adopt more human-centered design approaches to design relevant products.

Increase the availability of agricultural credit

In Uganda’s mostly agricultural economy, micro, small and medium enterprises and smallholder families often struggle to get credit, which limits their ability to grow and create jobs. According to the Bank of Uganda’s state of the economy report 2016, credit flow to agriculture stands at a paltry 10 percent of total credit. Uganda’s strategy recognizes that agriculture is the engine for the economy.

To make credit more available in the sector, the strategy addresses a few key barriers such as credit reference bureaus’ limited coverage of smallholders, sparse rural access points, weak public awareness about the importance of credit history and challenges around communal property rights. Beyond addressing these issues, Uganda will need to find a way to tap into the vast amount of informal credit input data available at large agricultural buyers to further strengthen smallholders’ credit histories and position smallholders for easy access to credit and other financial services.

Empower and protect individuals with enhanced financial capability

Issues like low digital literacy and data protection are becoming more urgent as poor people make the leap from traditional to digital financial services. Uganda’s new strategy proposes a review of the national financial literacy strategy and FSPs’ consumer protection practices, as well as routine regulatory checks on providers.

Other measures include periodic demand-side needs studies and data sharing among FSPs to improve product development. Greater consumer literacy will empower customers to understand product terms and conditions and help them to make informed choices about financial products and services.

Will these measures get Uganda to its 5 percent goal?

Overall, Uganda’s new strategy clearly addresses the key financial inclusion challenges it faces. The strategy focuses on the most important financial inclusion enablers, such as progressive regulation, flexible and custom KYC, infrastructure to support scale at low cost and customer centricity. Considering these strengths and the progress Uganda has already made with recent financial sector reforms, cutting financial exclusion to 5 percent by 2022 is achievable.

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Silent Engines Behind Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/silent-engines-behind-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silent-engines-behind-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/silent-engines-behind-agriculture/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 23:54:02 +0000 Lahiru Welikanna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153837 Year 2017 ended up with a huge loss of yield in rice cultivation when compared with the last few years. On one hand the reason was the heavy floods which occurred in agricultural areas. Another reason is the restrictions on the herbicides, pesticides and agricultural fertilizers that enhance the yield, as the farmers claim. So […]

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By Lahiru Welikanna
Jan 9 2018 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Year 2017 ended up with a huge loss of yield in rice cultivation when compared with the last few years. On one hand the reason was the heavy floods which occurred in agricultural areas. Another reason is the restrictions on the herbicides, pesticides and agricultural fertilizers that enhance the yield, as the farmers claim. So farmers are questioning on the big issue in using herbicides and other chemicals but majority of people don’t know about the microorganisms who live in soil and within the plant playing a silent,yet a critical role in the development of plants and ultimately on the whole agricultural world.

During the past few decades people were inclined to use pesticides to prevent the damage from pests and herbicides to prevent the growth of weeds in paddy fields. Actually those strategies worked out well but due to the use of its high dosage over the optimum level, it created a highly polluted environment and negatively impacted the beneficial microorganisms for agriculture. It changed the composition and abundance of the beneficial microorganisms for agriculture while changing ecology of the soil. Things get worsened when people try to do farming without herbicides and pesticides. Since plant beneficial microflora has been absent, growth of weeds have increased more than ever while a lot of diseases and nutrient symptoms can be seen in plants more frequently.

Someone one might not agree with that[1] [2] because of the lack of experience on these tiny microbes. But you should believe that chemically high energy consumptive product of nitrate, which is a main compound in fertilizers is produced by these silent workers,free of charge. These little guys fulfill not only nitrogen requirements of the plants but also other nutrients that are essential for the plant growth.

Some one can question about what they can do in pathogen resistance in upper part since they seem to be limited to the soil. No, that’s completely wrong. These microorganisms are living in not only in outside of the plant but also within the plant tissues. These microbes secrete chemical compounds that inhibit growth of pathogenic organisms which leads to diseases in plants. These microbes live mutualistically with the plant. Sometimes there will be stress conditions for plants. Specially for rice cultivation there will be floods, droughts, as well as changes in salinity in soil. These endophytic microorganisms protect plants from those stress conditions for zero cents.

Someone might ask how we could enhance this beneficial microflora. Actually it might take a little bit of time. Initially we can introduce beneficial microorganisms as biofertilizers to soil. Adding organic fertilizers, giving suitable conditions for the growth of the microbes might increase the colonization of these valuable guys. These microorganisms have a significant role in the protection and growth of the plant by maintaining optimum level of nutrients as well as converting nutrient sources into forms that can be absorbed by plant roots.

The government is focused on a sustainable economy. Sustainability comes through strategies which reap the full benefits of natural resources without destroying those. Empowering and managing these microorganisms is a good strategy for that.So let the silent engines be the noisy ones.

Name of the writer: Lahiru Welikanna
E-mail address: lahirunranga@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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