Inter Press Service » Development & Aid http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Drought Deals Harsh Blow to Cameroon’s Cocoa Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146702 Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
KONYE, Cameroon, Aug 28 2016 (IPS)

Tanchenow Daniel fears he will lose more than half a tonne of his cocoa yield during the next harvest at the end of this month.

He usually harvests no less than 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans during the mid-crop season, but he says every farmer in the Manyu Division of Cameroon’s South West Region is witnessing a catastrophe this year because of a prolonged dry season.

“The effects of droughts were worse this year because people had been ignorantly cutting down trees which provided shade to cocoa. Many trees have been dried up this year while bush fires dealt us a heavy blow,” Tanchenow told IPS, adding that though he is a victim, others have it even worse, including a friend who lost an entire farm of five hectares.

Adding insult to injury, prices fell in August, ranging from 1,000 CFA francs (1.72 dollars) per kg of cocoa to 1,200 CFA francs – down from prices as high as 1,700 CFA in July – with producers saying buying was delayed because of the drought.

Chief Orock Mbi of Meme division in Cameroon’s South West region tells IPS that he and other cocoa growers in the division also witnessed “a drastic drop” in cocoa yields in the past few months. He hopes for new methods to protect this key crop from the effects of climate change.

The South West Region of Cameroon is among the major cocoa-producing regions of Cameroon, along with the Center, East and South regions.

Data from the National Cocoa and Coffee Board suggests the drop in cocoa production was nationwide. The data indicates 7,610 tonnes of cocoa were exported in March. In April, the country exported 5,780 tonnes and the figure further dropped to 3,205 tonnes by the end of June.

Farmers pin hopes on cooperatives, new varieties

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cocoa. It has exported 239.7 million kgs this year of which 97 percent was grade II, according to statistics published on Aug. 3 by the Cocoa and Coffee Board.

The country’s minister of trade believes for this position to be maintained, farmers burdened by the undesirable effects of climate change must join cooperative unions. It is through these cooperative societies that government distributes farm inputs such as pesticides and improved variety seeds to smallholder farmers.

Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana addressed hundreds of farmers in Konye municipality on Aug. 3 as he launched the 2016/2017 cocoa marketing season.

He told the farmers in Cameroon’s third-largest cocoa producing locality that cooperative unions would help to constantly improve on the quality of their cocoa and protect them from deceitful cross-border buyers from neighbouring countries that pay them less than the worth of their produce.

Clementine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says cooperatives would help farmers make the best of aid offered in their localities, boost their bargaining power and improve gains for the six million Cameroonians who depend on the cocoa sector for a living.

Besides distribution, cooperatives sensitise farmers on the use of new varieties and techniques.

Zachy Asek Ojong, manager of the Konye Area Farmers Cooperative, tells IPS they have provided immense support to local members. “Farmers can attest to the assistance they have had from the cooperative society,” says Ojong.

Esapa, president of South West Farmers’ Cooperative, says “cocoa farmers have never really witnessed the effects of climate change until this year. So now we are beginning to work with common initiative groups in sensitising farmers, especially cocoa and coffee growers.”

He tells IPS the cooperative is now, among other things, advising farmers who had cut down trees to replant them in order to shade their cocoa and coffee farms. “The sunshine this year was so wild that people who set fires on their farms ended up burning many other farms around them. We are reinforcing campaigns against bush fires,” he said.

Tanchenow says he has planted 4,000 cocoa trees of a new variety commonly called “Barombi,” a name coined from an organisation that introduced the variety in the division. He says that two years in, yields are better and “Barombi is the hope for our cocoa’s future.”

However, he does not trust cooperative societies and calls them unreliable and tainted by favoritism.

“People in my area who depended on them for pesticides were shocked to find out selected individuals were called up by a different organisation to receive farm inputs from the agriculture ministry,” Tanchenow complained.

Farmers fall ever deeper in debt

The National Cocoa and Coffee Board says Cameroon’s cocoa was exported to eight countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain –  with the Netherlands alone importing 76.30 percent.

Still, farmers in Konye live without roads and electricity and depend on solar energy and firewood for drying and processing their cocoa. Some of them prefer to hang onto old ways of financing and sales despite the advantages of adhering to cooperatives.

Edward Ekoko Bokoba tells IPS that many farmers still prefer “pledging” their farms as means of financing, while others operate outside the major buyers of cocoa.

“Climate change is impacting pledging negatively, but some farmers seem to trust the system more than the micro-loans from the cooperatives,” he says.

“Pledging” is a system where farmers sign agreements with individuals who pay for farm inputs or lend them money. At the end of the harvest and sales, the funder’s money is reimbursed with an agreed quantity of cocoa or cash in interest.

Bokoba, who currently is expecting profits from a “pledge,” says when the dry season is prolonged or when the weather is distorted, as was the case this year, farmers are forced to borrow more money and may end up handing over all their harvest to creditors.  Some creditors are cocoa merchants who claim exclusive rights to purchase all their debtor’s cocoa and by so doing, dictate the price.

Another farmer, Ako Kingsley Tanyi, says though government is condemning sales of cocoa to trans-border buyers, some farmers prefer to sell their cocoa to Nigerian buyers who pay better prices. “Cocoa sold to Nigerians does not go through the Douala seaport and government does not have the figures,” he explains.

The performance of Cameroon’s cocoa has been as unstable as weather conditions in recent years. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) forecasted in 2011 that climate change will lead to a global slump in cocoa production by the year 2030.

Many hope that relief might be forthcoming from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation once their country-based COP21 plans have been fine-tuned.

CIAT, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics, says the coffee and cocoa sectors could be the first to benefit from this fund.

In the same optimistic regard, Cameroon’s trade minister holds that government’s target to export 600,000 tonnes by 2020 would be met.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the Sustainable Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:05:21 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146686 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/thailands-sufficiency-economy-philosophy-and-the-sustainable-development-goals/feed/ 0 Kenya Has Made Impressive Gains Under New Constitution, but the Hard Work is Just Beginninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:24:16 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146680 Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

On August 27 Kenyans will be celebrating not just the promulgation of the new Constitution six years ago, but also the tangible gains made throughout the country.

The 2010 Constitution heralded a new era of open and inclusive governance best epitomised by devolution, which is helping to bridge the development gap between rich and poor regions.  This gap was first created by colonialists who zoned the country into high-potential and low-potential agricultural areas.

The Constitution created 47 county governments where resources and power have been devolved since 2013. Despite teething problems, allocations to counties have risen from $210 million in 2013 to $280 million this financial year, signaling increasing commitments by both levels of government to enhance public service delivery and ultimately making devolution a success for Kenya.

In the difficult process of entrenching devolution, Kenya has enjoyed technical and financial support from the international community and the United Nations.

There are inspiring success stories coming from the counties, like the subsidised seeds and tractor services bringing down production costs for farmers in the North Rift, and rural access roads that are making it easier for farmers in central Kenya to get produce to market in time.

In other areas, the transformation has been profound. The hitherto impoverished northern county of Mandera became the poster child of devolution when its first Caesarian section was performed in Takaba Sub-county Hospital in October 2014.  Neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir counties conducted their first Caesarians two months ago.

In these counties, these procedures mark the difference between life and death and signal higher chances of survival for women, children and men through access to basic medical services. A recent study by the United Nations estimates that this region has the highest number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Kenya.

These milestones were largely made possible by increased county allocations to the health sector, with health facilities undergoing renovations and having medical stocks that were unavailable under centralised governance.

Going forward, the new Constitution must bring the promise of prosperity to the underprivileged and “leave no one behind”. This will not happen if the greatest segment – the youth – is not participating. Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed and with few prospects.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. By 2050, Kenya’s population is expected to reach 85 million. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 per cent in the next three decades.

The mission therefore is to have a laser-like focus on those investments that enable Kenya to reap from its demographic dividend, which means working towards a time when there will be fewer dependents for every Kenyan in employment.

With the right investments helping to bring about 90 per cent of working age population into meaningful employment, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product could increase twelve-fold from current $1,377.

Improvements in education, health and nutrition, especially of girls, women and children, will contribute to a decrease in the number of children born to each family, as survival improves.

This calls for programmes to increase access to family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies. As women spend less time bearing and raising children, they can enter the workforce and contribute to economic production.

At the same time, we must not forget the fact that the Constitution recognises women as a special group deserving legal protection. That is why it directs that all public positions, including political office, shall not be occupied by more than two-thirds of either gender. This constitutional provision needs to be urgently and comprehensively implemented.

Even as Kenyans celebrate these achievements, it is not lost to all that a major test lies around the corner – that of remaining united in the countdown to the next general election, only one year away.

Preparations for the elections have started in earnest, with efforts to strengthen the institutions created by the Constitution to manage elections and resolve electoral disputes. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on matters relating to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has tabled proposals on electoral reforms. Kenyans are optimistic that the elections will be credible, free and fair, devoid of violence.

The new Constitution must guide Kenya towards being seen as a beacon of hope for democratic values, good governance, rule of law and social inclusion for all of Africa.

Towards this vision, the United Nations will remain a resolute partner of the Government and the people of Kenya.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

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Chatterjee, new Resident Coordinator, to lead 25 UN agencies in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/chatterjee-new-resident-coordinator-to-lead-25-un-agencies-in-east-africa/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 05:48:47 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146679 By an IPS Correspondent
NAIROBI, KENYA, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

Siddharth Chatterjee, the Representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kenya, has been appointed UN Resident Coordinator, where he will lead and coordinate 25 UN agencies in East Africa. At the same time, he will also serve as the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

At UNFPA, he and his team spearheaded efforts to reduce the unacceptably high maternal deaths in Kenya putting the spotlight on the challenges faced by adolescent girls, including child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sexual and gender based violence.

Before he joined UNFPA, Chatterjee served as the Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships and was also responsible for resource mobilization at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since 2011.

In 1997 he joined the UN in Bosnia and over the next two decades served in Iraq, South Sudan, Indonesia, Sudan (Darfur), Somalia, Denmark, and Kenya. He has worked in UN Peace Keeping, UNICEF, UNOPS, the Red Cross and UNFPA.

Welcoming the appointment, Ruth Kagia, Senior Advisor, International Relations and Social Sectors in the Office of the President of Kenya said, “Sid’s insightful understanding of clients’ needs as the UNFPA Representative in Kenya has translated into tangible gains in maternal, child and adolescent health. His relentless energy and focus on results has helped build relationships and networks of trust and confidence with the highest levels of Government, civil society, the private sector and development partners.”

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Dr Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa said, “Sid resolutely pushed UNFPA’s mandate in the hardest to reach counties and service of the most vulnerable.  He mobilized resources and partners in the private sector to join this drive to leapfrog maternal and new-born health. This bold initiative was highlighted by the World Economic Forum in Davos and Kigali”.

Among Chatterjee’s other career achievements include mobilizing the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement to join the eradication of polio initiative; negotiating access with rebel groups to undertake a successful polio immunization campaign in the rebel controlled areas of Darfur; leading UNICEF’s emergency response when conflict broke out in Indonesia’s Aceh and the Malukus provinces; and overseeing UNICEF’s largest demobilization of child soldiers in South Sudan in 2001.

A prolific writer, Chatterjee’s articles have featured on CNN, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Huffington Post, Reuters, the Guardian, Inter Press Service, as well as the major Kenyan newspapers.  He was recently profiled by Forbes magazine in an article titled, “Passionate Leader of UNFPA Kenya Battles Violence against Women, FGM and Child Marriage.” 

His early career was in a Special Forces unit of the Indian Army, where he was decorated in 1995 for bravery by the President of India. Chatterjee holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Princeton University, USA and a Bachelor’s degree from the National Defence Academy in India.

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Devastating Earthquake Demolishes Towns in Central Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/devastating-earthquake-demolishes-central-italy/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146676 Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 25 2016 (IPS)

At 3.36am on  August 24, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc and destruction in central Italy.

The initial early morning earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.1 and 5.4 aftershocks, the tremors reported to have been felt by inhabitants in Rome, Rimini and as far south as Naples.

La Repubblica has reported the hamlets of Accumoli and the neighboring town of Amatrice to have been “razed to the ground.”

Not a single building has been spared, including schools and hospitals.

The current death toll has now reached 247 , in spite of 4’300 rescuers using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands in a strenuous bid to find the last remaining survivors.

“My village no longer exists”, the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, stated.

A high number of the fatalities have been of children, amongst them an 18-month-old child in critical condition who died in the now-demolished Ascoli Piceno hospital.

The child’s parents were no strangers to the devastating effects of natural disasters. They had relocated after experiencing the forceful earthquake to hit L’Aquila, a city in the region of Abruzzo, in 2009.

In fact, earthquakes have always been a threat to those who live along the Apennine mountain range in central Italy.

Through the centuries Italy has suffered from the destructive force of earthquakes. Over the years, thousands have died as a result of tremors equal to or stronger than those felt on Wednesday night, 24 August.

The “Messina” earthquake reduced Sicily’s second-largest city to rubble and took the lives of over 82’000 in 1908.

In 1980, the “Eboli” earthquake struck a huge area near the southern city of Naples, some 2’735 were killed and more than 7’500 injured.

The “Abruzzo” earthquake in 2009  resulted in the death of 300 and demolished the 13th century city of L’Aquila.

Italy’s geographical location makes it prone to the threat of powerful earthquakes.

“Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line, minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.” the Italian Foreign office told the Telegraph UK.

Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Perozzi  warned that roads in and out of the town were cut off. “There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he stated.

Italian authorities are currently warning the public of the risk of aftershocks in the areas affected.

On the same day the earthquake in central Italy struck, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar left at least 3 dead and damaged ancient cultural sites and temples in the centre of the country.

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners are ready to stand by in support of countries where humanitarian aid is most needed in the aftermath of natural disaster.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of  lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the Regular Daily.

Natural disasters, particularly in the form of earthquakes,  have quite literally “shaken” the world up this 2016.

The residents of Kunamato, Japan just marked the fourth month since  terrifying temblors left 72 dead in April.

The strongest quake to have hit Japan since March 2011 occurred on the evening of April 14, registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

This was followed by another earthquake of similar scale on April 16,  which was determined to be the “main quake”.

Of the 72 victims, 50 were killed instantly, while 17 died of poor health while seeking shelter at local emergency centers.

In the same month, a massive earthquake resulted in  the deaths of 650  and the displacement of over 30’000 people in Ecuador.

The aftermath of the deathly quake lingers on as the survivors now face the grave socio-economic implications of destructive natural disaster.

In addition to the quake costing an estimated 4 billion USD in structural damage, in a country already economically staggered by falling oil prices, the consequential setbacks it has left on the lives of thousands in terms of unemployment, homelessness, and emotional trauma has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Months later, many survivors of the earthquake in  Ecuador are still living in the grief-stricken aftermath of unprecedented calamity.

It is essential that sustainable solutions are set in place to all those left displaced and traumatised by natural disasters this 2016.

Although the rebuilding of demolished infrastructure and the generation of alternative housing is a priority,  the establishment of support clinics to help those most affected cope with the physiological consequences of an earthquake should also be considered of vital importance.

In light of ongoing natural disasters and the devastating effects they can leave on both the psyche and livelihoods on the victims that cross their forceful paths, we must place a strong focus not only on the restructuring of the cities and towns reduced to rubble, but also on the continuous psychological  support of the traumatised survivors.

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Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Breaking the Silence on Gender-Blind Transporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:34:58 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146634 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/feed/ 0 Uruguay’s Victory over Philip Morris: a Win for Tobacco Control and Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:49:27 +0000 German Velasquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146586 Credit: Bigstock

Credit: Bigstock

By Germán Velásquez
GENEVA, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In a landmark decision that has been hailed as a victory of public health measures against narrow commercial interests, an international tribunal has dismissed a claim by tobacco giant company Philip Morris that the Uruguay government violated its rights by instituting tobacco control measures.

The ruling had been much anticipated as it was the first international case brought against a government for taking measures to curb the marketing of tobacco products.

Philip Morris had started proceedings in February 2010 against Uruguay at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) under a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between Uruguay and Switzerland. The decision was given on 8 July 2016.

Under the BIT, foreign companies can take cases against the host state on various grounds, including if its policies constitute an expropriation of the companies” expectation of profits, or a violation of “fair and equitable treatment” These investment treaties and arbitration tribunals like ICSID have been heavily criticised in recent years for decisions favouring companies and that critics argue violate the right of states to regulate in the public interest.

In this particular case, the tribunal gave a ruling that dismissed the tobacco giant’s claims and upheld that the Uruguayan pro-health measures were allowed.

President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, responding to the ruling, stated on 8 July:: “We have succeeded to prove at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes that our country, without violating any treaty, has met its unwavering commitment to defend the health of its people… From now on, when tobacco companies try to undermine the regulations adopted in the context of the framework tobacco convention with the threat of litigation, they (countries) will find our precedent.”

Germán Velásquez

Germán Velásquez

Philip Morris International (PMI) started legal proceedings against Uruguay’ government at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), based at the World Bank, in February 2010. This was the first time the tobacco industry challenged a state in front of an international tribunal.

Philip Morris claimed that the health measures imposed by the Ministry of Health of Uruguay violated its intellectual property rights and failed to comply with Uruguay’s obligation under its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Switzerland.

Two specific measures were contested by Philip Morris. The first measure was the Single Presentation Requirement introduced by the Uruguayan Public Health Ministry in 2008, where tobacco manufacturers could no longer sell multiple varieties of one brand. Philip Morris had to withdraw 7 of its 12 products and alleged that the restriction to market only one variety substantially affected its company’s value.

The second measure contested by Philip Morris was the so-called “80/80 Regulation”. Under a presidential decree, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages should cover 80 percent instead of 50 percent, of the packaging, leaving only 20 percent for the tobacco companies’ trademarks and advertisement.

Uruguay adopted strict tobacco control policies to comply with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in light of evidence that tobacco consumption leads to addiction, illness, and death.

According to the Ministry of Health, since Uruguay introduced its tobacco control programme in 2003, its comprehensive tobacco control campaign has resulted in a substantial and unprecedented decrease in tobacco use.

From 2005 to 2011 per person consumption of cigarettes dropped by 25.8 %. Tobacco consumption among school-going youth aged 12­17 decreased from over 30 percent to 9.2 percent from 2003 to 2011. Ministry of Health data also indicate that since smoke-free laws were introduced, hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction has reduced by 22 percent.

Since this was the first international litigation, the case is highly important for similar debates taking place in other forums, like the World Trade Organization, where some states are being challenged by other states for their tobacco control measures. It is a significant victory for a state facing commercial threats by tobacco companies fighting control measures.

The decision is supportive of states that choose to exercise their sovereign right to introduce laws and strategies to control tobacco sales in order to protect the health of their population.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay”s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion. The international lawyer and practitioner in investment treaty arbitration Todd Weiler stated in a legal opinion that: “the claim is nothing more than the cynical attempt by a wealthy multinational corporation to make an example of a small country with limited resources to defend against a well-funded international legal action.”

An important aspect of the case was that the secretariats of the World Health Organization and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) submitted an amicus brief during the proceedings.

The brief provided an overview of global tobacco control, including the role of the WHO FCTC. It set out the public health evidence underlying Uruguay’s tobacco packaging and labelling laws and detailed state practice in implementing similar measures.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay''s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion
The Tribunal accepted the submission of the amicus brief on the basis that it provided an independent perspective on the matters in the dispute and contributed expertise from “qualified agencies”. The Tribunal subsequently relied on the brief at several points of the factual and legal analysis in their decision.

In accepting submission of the amicus brief the Tribunal noted that given the “public interest involved in this case”the amicus brief would “support the transparency of the proceeding”.

The Tribunal ruling upheld that Uruguay could maintain the following specific regulations:

Prohibiting tobacco companies from marketing cigarettes in ways that falsely present some cigarettes as less harmful than others.

Requiring tobacco companies to use 80% of the front and back of cigarette packs for graphic/pictures of warnings of the health danger of smoking.

According to expert Chakravarthi Raghavan there are several specific legal findings of the panel ruling, including:

  1. Uruguay did not violate any of its obligations under the Switzerland/Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty, or deny Philip Morris any of the protections provided by that Treaty.
  1. Uruguay’s regulatory measures did not “expropriate” Philip Morris’ property. They were bona fide exercises of Uruguay’s sovereign police power to protect public health.
  1. The measures did not deny Philip Morris “fair and equitable treatment” because they were not arbitrary; instead, they were reasonable measures strongly supported by the scientific literature, and had received broad support from the global tobacco control community.
  1. The measures did not “unreasonably and discriminatorily” deny Philip Morris the use and enjoyment of its trademark rights, because they were enacted in the interests of legitimate policy concerns and were not motivated by an intention to deprive Philip Morris of the value of its investment.

This is a landmark ruling because it supports the case that it is the sovereign right not only of Uruguay but of States in general to adopt laws and regulations to protect public health by regulating the marketing and distribution of tobacco products.

It is hoped that many other countries, which have been awaiting this decision before adopting similar regulations, will follow Uruguay’s example.President Vázquez said it is time for other nations to join Uruguay in this struggle, “without any fear of retaliation from powerful tobacco corporations, as Uruguay has done.”

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of public concern worldwide about the role that bilateral investment treaties has played in curbing the policy space of countries, including for health policies. There have also been serious concerns about the rulings made by other tribunals of ICSID and other arbitration centres, which have favoured the claims of companies and imposed high monetary awards against states. In the case of Philip Morris versus Uruguay, the tribunal’s ruling was correct in supporting the state’s right to regulate in the interest of public health. But the concerns in general are still valid. Other tribunals in other cases may or may not be so sympathetic to the public interest.

This is a reduced version of the article published in www.southcentre.int.

 

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Literature Professor Probes Novels of the Anthropocene Agehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 01:41:17 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146626 "The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit:  Arun Shrestha/IPS

"The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit: Arun Shrestha/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

A literature professor at Cornell University in upstate New York, Nick Admussen, has recently published an online literary essay about writing novels in the Anthropocene Age.

Titled “Six proposals for the reform of literature in the age of climate change,” the 1500-word essay will change the way you think about how modern novelists need to change they ways they try to tackle climate change themes.

Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell and has an MFA degree in poetry. In the essay, which has reached a larger audience of literary critics and writers worldwide via social media, Admussen uses the negative poetics of an an early 20th century Chinese writer to outline some habits he feels that fiction writers need to break in order to make culture more responsive to climate change. It might be one of the most important literary essays of the 21st century, and whether you agree with all his six proposals or not, Admussen’s piece deserves an international readership.

"Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow," -- Nick Admussen

One of Admussen’s themes is that global culture has not just failed to adapt to the climate change challenges we now face in this age of global warming, it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. That’s a tall order, but the author has his talking points and they’re all worth paying attention to.

Admussen says he wants to speak to those ”who feel an intense responsibility for our shared future on Earth, those casting around for means and methods by which that future might be improved.”

“Today, global cosmopolitan culture [is creating massive ] chaos,” Admussen, 45, opines. “Power is concentrated in the hands of a few independent corporations and states, each strong enough to escape environmental regulation, none with the will or mission to provoke change in themselves or others. Day after day, human activity fills
the atmosphere with carbon, transforming Earth’s climate, melting the polar ice caps, already destroying the homes and habitats of the planet’s many creatures — including ourselves. Yet we lack the ability to visualize these problems, to locate their source in our own actions and lives, to tell and transform the stories of the interactions between our behaviour and our biome.”

“This is not a failing of science, the science is quite clear: it is a failing of culture,” he adds, noting: ”The single most influential artwork of climate change remains former U.S. Vice President Al Gore standing in front of a Powerpoint presentation 10 years ago. Global culture has not just failed to adapt to the challenges we now face: it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. To change this, we need to break with our existing traditions of art and media, even if that means rejecting some of the works we love most.”

Admussen says that the current way that novelists worldwide try to tackle global warming themes is ”a destructive and atomizing act of imagination” that ”erases our radical dependence on each other and on the environment.”

And he doesn’t stop there, adding: ”Reducing literature to a procession of isolated actors (or authors) belies the responsibility readers have to see the disastrous paradigm in which a focus on individuals occludes acts that harm the broader community.”

Admussen goes from despair to hope. While he maintains that ”the humblest grammatical formulation all the way up to the way we conceptualize our most cherished ideals, the English language is choked by metaphors of possession and exchange, and sorely lacks metaphors of membership and interrelation,” he also champions what he calls perhaps the greatest hope for fiction today, that young people are participating now in fiction.

“They write a fanfic or attend a book club or play Quiddich on the college campus green,” he writes. “They dream themselves into capacious and novel systems. This gives them the power and vision to build futures.”

Building on his variou themes and proposals, Admussen notes that in the last 20 years, advanced economies in the North have taken pride in their modest decreases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while at the same time completely ignoring the way in which this is possible because of the exportation of manufacturing to the global South.

“Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow,” the Cornell professor writes. “These types of inequities are almost always accompanied by moralizing fictions. The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature.  Full partnership for everyone in a global ecosystem means redistributing the rewards that the developed world has already incurred by harming it.”

Like I said, this is all a tall order, and not everyone is keen to accept it.

“I’m circumspect about calls for systemic ‘reform’ of any art form,” a published novelist told me by email. “Calls for art or literature that portray or reflect an under appreciated truth are useful but I think that proposals like these are more likely to emerge as trends naturally, from the culture at and not likely to vault forward because
an academic or critic has articulated them.” Said another novelist, also via email: “Admussen’s essay is interesting, but ‘prescription’ for artists is not a good idea, and ‘reform’ in relation to the arts is always pretty sinister.”

The entire essay is published by The Critical Flame here.

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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Deadly Yellow Fever Spreading, Amid Global Vaccine Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:59:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146613 A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

As deadly yellow fever spreads to seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), new measures have been introduced to ensure that as many people as possible are immunised, despite global shortages of the yellow fever vaccine.

Global emergency stocks of just 6 million yellow fever vaccines have been strained by the current outbreak, which began in Angola and has now spread to neighbouring DRC.

To reach as many people as possible with the limited supply of vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started recommending the use of partial doses.

“Studies done in adults show that fractional dosing using one fifth of the regular dose provides effective immunity against yellow fever for at least 12 months and possibly much longer,” WHO Spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told IPS.

The WHO began recommending that fractional doses could be used as an emergency measure in June 2016, ensuring additional doses would be available for mass vaccination campaigns in Angola and the DRC.

The WHO has also recently changed its recommendations for those who have already been immunised with a complete dose of the yellow fever vaccine.

“We know now that a single complete dose provides lifelong protection,” said Jašarević.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children.

The change in recommendation happened on 11 July 2016, but also applies retrospectively to those already carrying certificates of immunisation required for travel.

“This lifetime validity of these certificates applies automatically to certificates issued after 11 July 2016, as well as certificates already issued,” said Jašarević.

The new measures will potentially mean that more doses are available for mass vaccination campaigns such as the one the DRC government began in Kinshasa this week.

IPS spoke with Heather Kerr who is the DRC Country Director of Save the Children, which is providing support to the DRC Ministry of Health’s mass vaccination campaign.

“So far in DRC there are 74 actual confirmed cases and there’ve been 16 deaths from those cases,” she said. This means that more than 20 percent of people who have contracted yellow fever in the DRC have died. The number of suspected cases in the DRC and Angola is much higher.

“Obviously a big city like Kinshasa worries us, we don’t really know how many people there are in Kinshasa, no census has been done since the 1980s but we estimate around 10 million.”

The current campaign aims to reach 420,000 people in Kinshasa over 10 days, said Kerr.

“The governments decision was in Kinshasa to use what’s called the fractionalised dose, so it’s a fifth of the normal dose.”

Kerr says that since the fractional doses only provide protection for one year, revaccination will be required, but that hopefully by this time there will be more vaccines available globally.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” she said.

“There’s no known cure for yellow fever,” said Kerr. “Prevention is better than cure always, but in this case it really is, so that’s why this vaccination campaign is so important.”

In the early stages Kerr says that yellow fever either has hardly any symptoms or symptoms such as fever, nausea and diarrhea “which could be confused also with something like malaria.”

“Then the more severe symptoms are bleeding because it’s a haemorrhagic fever, and then people can become severely jaundiced and can go into organ failure and that’s why it’s called yellow fever.”

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UN Admits it Needs to do More After Causing Haiti Cholera Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 21:34:15 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146610 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/feed/ 0 The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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133 Organisations Nominate Syria’s White Helmets for Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:34:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146605 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/feed/ 2