Inter Press Service » Development & Aid http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 02 Mar 2015 00:56:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Environmental Damage to Gaza Exacerbating Food Insecurityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:38 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139435 Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
BEIT LAHIYA, Northern Gaza Strip, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Extensive damage to Gaza’s environment as a result of the Israeli blockade and its devastating military campaign against the coastal territory during last year’s war from July to August, is negatively affecting the health of Gazans, especially their food security.

“We were living on bread and tea and my five children were badly malnourished as my husband and I couldn’t afford proper food,” Safa Subha, 37, from Beit Lahiya told IPS.

“My children were suffering from liver problems, anaemia and weak bones. It was only after I received regular food vouchers from Oxfam and was able to purchase eggs and yoghurt that my children are now healthier.Lack of dietary diversity is an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat

“But it is still a struggle as I have to ration out the food and my doctor has warned me to keep giving the children these foods to prevent the malnutrition returning,” said Safa.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in several communities, lack of dietary diversity was highlighted as an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat.

Before the war, Safa’s husband Ashraf worked as a farmer, renting a piece of land on which he grew produce that he then sold.

“My husband used to earn about NIS 300 per week (about 75 dollars) from farming. After the land became too dangerous to farm, because of Israeli military fire and much of it destroyed in Israeli bombings, my husband tried to earn some money renting a taxi,” said Safa.

However, Ashraf’s attempts to support his family as a taxi driver did not provide sufficient income for their survival.

“He can only use the taxi a couple of days a week because it doesn’t belong to him and he often doesn’t have money to buy fuel because it is so expensive and Israel only allows limited amounts of fuel into Gaza because of the blockade,” said Safa.

Kamal Kassam, 43, from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, has had to rely on Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme to support his wife and five children aged 6 to 12.

During the war the Kassam’s had to flee to a U.N. shelter after the family home was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which also wounded his wife and left one of his daughters severely traumatised, suffering from epilepsy and soiling herself at night.

Kassam’s wife Eman is ill and another daughter needs regular medical treatment for cancer.

The Kassams were provided with a temporary tin caravan to live in by aid organisations but were unable to purchase food or school clothes because they had received housing aid and were therefore “less desperate”.

“I used to work in a factory but lost that job after Israel’s blockade. Before the war I made about NIS 30 (about 7.50 dollars) a day by picking up and delivering goods from my donkey cart,” Kassam told IPS.

But during a night of heavy aerial bombardment, a bomb killed his donkey and destroyed the cart as well as his only way of supporting his family.

Israel’s extensive bombing campaign during the war also destroyed or damaged, infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant and water sanitation projects.

As a result, untreated sewage is pumped out to sea and then floods back into Gaza’s underground water system, contaminating drinking water and crops and leading to outbreaks of disease.

Israeli restrictions on imports, including vital spare parts for the repair of sewerage infrastructure and agricultural equipment such as fertiliser and seedlings, has limited crop production.

Furthermore, the regular targeting of fishermen and farmers, trying to access their land and Gaza’s fishing shoals in Israel’s Access Restricted Areas (ARAs), by Israeli security forces has severely hindered the ability of Gazans to earn a living from farming and fishing.

OCHA identified the most frequent concerns regarding food security and nutrition as “loss of the source of income and livelihoods due to severe damage to agricultural lands; death/loss of animals; inability to access agricultural lands, particularly in the Israeli-imposed three-kilometre buffer zone; and loss of employment.”

Food insecurity in Gaza is not caused by lack of food on the market alone. It is also a crisis of economic access to food because most Gazans cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities of quality food.

“As a result of the lack of economic access to food due to high unemployment and low wages, the majority of the population in Gaza has been pushed into poverty and food insecurity, with no other choice but to rely heavily on assistance to cover their essential needs,” said ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector’, a report by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and the Government of Palestine.

“The repetition of one harsh economic shock after the other has resulted in an erosion of household coping strategies, with 89 percent of households resorting to negative coping mechanisms to meet their food needs (half report purchasing lower quality food and a third have reduced the number of daily meals),” said the DNA report, adding that the situation was expected to worsen in 2015.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139423 Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

By Josh Butler
NEW YORK, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children – and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market."It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.” -- Kathy Spahn

Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.

“The area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,” Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.

“We’re teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.”

The programme, ‘Making Markets Work For Women,’ or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.

Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.

Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist – traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.

“HKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,” Spahn told IPS.

“We call the programme ‘enhanced homestead food production.’ With that, comes nutrition information. It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.”

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. While each household may only produce an amount too small to make market sale effective, joining forces with other women means each collective has a larger volume to sell.

“We want to build their capacity in business and marketing. We give them training on market research, demand, book-keeping, and organise the households into groups so they can aggregate their products,” Spahn said.

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

A group savings scheme is also offered, whereby women can place some of their income into a shared pool that any member can access for large expenses such as hospitalisation or replacement of packaging machinery.

“If something breaks down, we can’t replace it because that’s not sustainable. This is about development, not charity,” Spahn said.

M2W2 was originally a three-year pilot programme from 2009 to 2012, but received an extra injection of funds from the British government to continue until January.

“We are looking for more support to keep going,” Spahn said.

The programme’s outcomes are resounding. Spahn said of the 2,500 households involved, “nearly all” saw a 30 percent increase in income.

“When we started, everybody had a poor diet. Three years later, nobody did,” she said.

Eggs, a rich source of Vitamin A, helped address deficiency of that vitamin and vision problems associated with such deficiencies, but Spahn said the most powerful benefit was social, rather than physical.

“We found 90 percent of women had the sole decision over the money their raised. They were bargaining more efficiently, and feeling more empowered,” she said.

Empowerment and financial independence for women is one of the ideological pillars of Women Advancing Microfinancing New York. WAMNY board member Danielle LeBlanc said the microfinancing and social entrepreneurship can be among the simplest and most effective ways to advance the economic prospects of disenfranchised women in poorer countries.

“With an opportunity to earn income on their own, it helps women gain some independence and increase the financial sustainability of their families,” LeBlanc told IPS.

“When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their kids to school, improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family.”

LeBlanc said the term ‘microfinancing’ was a broad concept, viewed differently by many parties. She said governments consider it to be grants of under 50,000 dollars and that banks consider the threshold to be closer to 250,000, but LeBlanc said vast progress can be made with an initial outlay of as little as a few hundred dollars.

“In the U.S., microfinancing might help out street vendors like in New York City, or to fund home daycare centres, or even small businesses with shopfronts. Overseas, we can be talking about the very poor, like women selling goods by the roadside, farmers, or craft makers,” she said.

“To us, the increase in income for a family in poor countries might seem very small, but it makes a huge difference in their lives. It helps increase the nutrition of children, increases the standing of the woman in the family, or can put a tin roof on a thatched house.”

LeBlanc said the increase standing of women in the eyes of their husbands and their community is one of the most important benefits that such projects can offer.

“It changes from community to community, but when women start bringing income into their family, it increases their confidence and they move from being totally dependant on their husband to someone bringing income into the house,” she said.

“There is more respect there for the woman. It makes a huge difference.”

She said the M2W2 programme was selected for presentation at the WAMNY event on Tuesday because of its “holistic” approach to empowering women, benefiting families, and changing communities.

“It is working with various women’s issues, from joint savings programmes to technical assistance and increasing farming output,” she said. “It is getting women working together, to co-operate as a community. Projects like this encourage our members to think outside the box for how to work.”

At its core, M2W2 is a simple one – give seeds and tools to women, show them how to farm, and teach them how to sell their produce. But both Spath and LeBlanc said that, in the field of microfinance, often the simplest ideas can have the most impressive outcomes.

“The key to whether a programme is successful isn’t necessarily the budget, it’s about whether it is based on a need. It needs clear communication with the community, if it is a programme they like and can use,” LeBlanc said.

Spath said HKI is currently working on a project in African countries including Mozambique and Burkina Faso, helping women there to grow sweet potatoes to make into chips, bread and cookies – again, both to sell and to feed to their own families.

“We’ve always said, we should aim for complex problems and simple solutions. We want to take a problem apart, and find a solution that isn’t overwhelming,” Spath said.

“The problem is in scaling things up, from one community to a nationwide programme. Once you have the solution, how do you reach the people hardest to reach? How do you take it past the village?”

Spath said HKI hopes to institute the M2W2 programme in other other countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: War on Wildlife Crime – Time to Enlist the Ordinary Citizenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139432 Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a “wildlife crisis”, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.

Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.“Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there with narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year”

With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “What difference can any one individual make?”  Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the “tragedy of the commons” – everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests – but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.

With seven billion people on the planet, it is also tempting to say that people’s need for food, shelter and well-being should take precedence over nature conservation, but the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.  In fact far from it – the two often go hand in hand and are totally compatible – non-consumptive use of wildlife, such as whale-watching and safaris, provide sustainable livelihoods for thousands of people.

Extinction has been an ever-present phenomenon, with a few species losing their specialised niche or being edged out to a more aggressive competitor or, in the case of dinosaurs, being wiped out by a meteorite strike.

The number of species going extinct is increasing fast, at a rate that cannot be attributed to natural causes and it is clear that there is a human foot pressing down heavily on the accelerator pedal.

South Africa reports record numbers of rhinos killed for their horn; demand for ivory is pushing the elephant to the brink; tiger numbers might have risen in India of late but the wild population and the range occupied by the cats are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And we are not just losing vital pieces in the elaborate jigsaw puzzle of ecosystems; we are losing elements of our natural heritage that contribute to human culture and society, and the lifeblood of sustainable activities that create employment in the tourism sector, generating foreign exchange and significant tax revenues.

Wildlife crime is not an abstract. It affects us all and there is more that individuals can do to make a difference than they perhaps imagine.  Understanding the consequences of killing the animals and highlighting the connection between the increased poaching and organised criminal gangs and terrorists have been extremely helpful in strengthening  political messages and in persuading  the public to demand that more be done.

The gangs care little about the fate of the animals – either the individuals they kill or the survival of the species.  They think nothing of shooting the rangers who stand in their way.  They do care about their profits and high demand for ivory in East Asian markets has sent the price through the roof – not that the poacher in the field or the craftsman in the backstreet workshop receive much of a share.

If demand evaporates, the price will fall and killing elephants for their ivory will no longer be a viable business. The gangs will have to find some other source of income, but they would have to do this soon anyway, as current levels of poaching mean that there will not be any elephants left in 30 years.

The maxim “get them while they are young” applies to many things, not least the environment and junior members of the household often influence the family’s behaviour with regard to recycling, saving energy and water, food purchases and a range of other “green issues”. So raising awareness among the younger generation of the need to tackle wildlife crime is crucial.

The fight against wildlife crime has to be conducted on several fronts.  It does register on governments’ radar and pressure from civil society can help keep it high on the agenda.  The public has a vital role to play in keeping pressure on governments, either individually or through local pressure groups and NGOs. People can also modify their own behaviour by minimising their footprint on the planet.

We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime, but nor should we dismiss the potential impact of the actions of individuals as consumers, customers or voters.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Opinion: Manipulate and Mislead – How GMOs are Infiltrating Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 10:29:47 +0000 Haidee Swanby and Maran Bassey Orovwuje http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139429 “There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

“There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

By Haidee Swanby and Mariann Bassey Orovwuje
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.

Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.

Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.“It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa”

While many countries have implemented strict legal frameworks to regulate GMOs, African nations have struggled with the legal, scientific and infrastructural resources to do so.

This has delayed the introduction of GMOs into Africa, but it has also provided the proponents of GMOs with a plum opportunity to offer their assistance and, in the process, helping to craft laws on the continent that promote the introduction of barely regulated GMOs and create investor-friendly environments for agribusiness.

Their line is that African governments must adopt GMOs as a matter of urgency to deal with hunger and that laws implementing pesky and expensive safety measures, or requiring assessments of socio-economic impacts, will only act as obstructions.

To date only seven African countries have complete legal frameworks to deal with GMOs and only four – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan – have approved commercial cultivation of a GM crop.

The drive to open markets for GMOs in Africa is not only happening through “assistance” resulting in permissive legal frameworks for GMOs, but also through an array of “philanthropical” projects, most of them funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One such project is Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), funded by the Gates Foundation in collaboration with Monsanto. Initially the project sought to develop drought tolerant maize varieties in five pilot countries but, as the project progressed, it incorporated one of Monsanto’s most lucrative commercial traits into the mix – MON810, which enables the plant to produce its own pesticide.

Interestingly, MON810 has recently come off patent, but Monsanto retains ownership when it is stacked with another gene, in this case, drought tolerant.

WEMA has provided a convenient vehicle for the introduction of Monsanto’s controversial product, but it has also used its influence to shape GM-related policy in the countries where it works.

The project has refused to run field trials in Tanzania and Mozambique until those countries amend their “strict liability” laws, which will make WEMA, and future companies selling GMOs, liable for any damages they may cause.

WEMA has also complained to governments about clauses in their law that require assessment of socio-economic impacts of GMOs, saying that assessment and approvals should be based solely on hard science, which is also often influenced or financed by the industry.

African civil society and smallholders’ organisations are fighting for the kind of biosafety legislation that will safeguard health and environment against the potential risks of GMOs, not the kind that promotes the introduction of this wholly inappropriate technology.

About 80 percent of Africa’s food is produced by smallholders, who seldom farm on more than five hectares of land and usually on much less.  The majority of these farmers are women, who have scant access to finance or secure land tenure.

That they still manage to provide the lion’s share of the continents’ food, usually without formal seed, chemicals, mechanisation, irrigation or subsidies, is testament to their resilience and innovation.

African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs – the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters. 

There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems.

The mantra that GMOs are necessary for food security is hijacking the policy space that should be providing appropriate solutions for the poorest farmers.

Only a tiny fraction of farmers will ever afford the elite GM technology package – for example in South Africa, where over 85 percent of maize production is genetically modified, GM maize seed costs 2-5 times more than conventional seed, must be bought annually and requires the extensive use of toxic and expensive chemicals and fertilisers.

What is more, despite 16 years of cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, South Africa’s food security continues to decline, with some 46 percent of the population categorised as food insecure.

It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations – such as unfair trade agreements and subsidies that perennially entrench poverty, or the patenting of seed and imposition of expensive and patented technology onto the world’s most vulnerable and risk averse communities – are the bedrock of hunger in Africa.

Without changing these fundamental power relationships and handing control over food production to smallholders in Africa, hunger cannot be eradicated.

A global movement is growing and demanding that governments support small-scale food producers and “agro-ecology” instead of corporate agriculture, an agricultural system that is based on collaboration with nature and is appropriate for small-scale production, where producers are free to plant and exchange seeds and operate in strong local markets.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

This opinion piece was originally published by Common Dreams.

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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Tobacco Workers in Cuba Dubious About Opening of U.S. Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:57:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139419 Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba , Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

“We have to wait and see,” “There isn’t a lot of talk about it,” are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.

“If the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,” said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y Martínez in the province of Pinar del Río, 180 km west of Havana.

The region of Vuelta Abajo, and the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez, San Luis, Guane and Pinar del Río in particular, combine ideal climate and soil conditions with a centuries-old farming culture to produce the world’s best premium hand-rolled cigars.

In this area alone, 15,940 hectares are planted every year in tobacco, Cuba’s fourth top export.

While continuing to hang tobacco leaves on the Rosario plantation, Borrego told IPS that “there is little talk” among the workers about how they might benefit if the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, is eased, as part of the current process of normalisation of bilateral ties.

Borrego said “it would be good” to break into the U.S. market, off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. And she said that raising the pay of day workers and growers would be an incentive for workers, “because there is a shortage of both female and male workers since people don’t like the countryside.”

Cuban habanos, rum and coffee represent a trade and investment opportunity for Havana and Washington, if bilateral ties are renewed in the process that on Friday Feb. 27 reached the second round of talks between representatives of the two countries.

Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a Dec. 17 reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties.

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Among the first measures approved by Washington to boost trade and ties between the two countries was the granting of permission to U.S. tourists to bring back 100 dollars worth of cigars and rum from Cuba.

But the sale of habanos in U.S. shops, where Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars reign, is still banned, and U.S. businesses are not allowed to invest in the local tobacco industry here.

Furthermore, the lifting of the U.S. embargo depends on the U.S. Congress, not the Obama administration.

In 2014, Tabacuba adopted a plan to double the production of tobacco leaves in the next five years, in the 15 Cuban provinces where over 16,000 producers, mainly private farmers or members of cooperative, produce tobacco.

Experts say that while Cuba stands out for the quality of its tobacco, it is not among the world’s biggest producers – which are China, the United States, Brazil, India and Turkey, in that order – nor is it among the countries with the highest yields –which are Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.

In fact, due to armed conflicts in different parts of the world, high import tariffs in Europe, and climate change in Cuba, the sales of the country’s cigar company, Habanos SA, fell one percent from 2013 to 2014, to 439 million dollars.

But when it happens, annual sales of habanos in the U.S. market are expected to climb to at least 250 million dollars, according to estimates by the only company that sells Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, a joint venture between the state-run Tabacuba and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

The corporation estimates that 150 million cigars from the 27 Cuban brands could be sold, once the U.S. market opens up.

The new permission for visitors to take home 100 dollars worth of cigars was called “symbolic” by Jorge Luis Fernández Maique, vice president of the Anglo-Cuban company, during the 17th Habanos Festival, which drew 1,650 participants from 60 nations Feb. 23-27 in Havana.

“The increase in sales in Cuba won’t be big,” the businessman forecast during the annual festival, which includes tours to tobacco plantations and factories, visits to auctions for humidors – a specially designed box for holding cigars – and art exhibits, and combined cigar, wine, rum and food tastings.

In its more than 140 locations worldwide, La Casa del Habano, an international franchise, sells a pack of 20 Cohiba Mini cigarrillos for 12 dollars, while a single habano cigar costs 50 dollars.

Premium cigars are the end result of a meticulous planting, selection, drying, curing, rolling and ageing process that involves thousands of humble, weathered hands like those of day worker Luis Camejo, who has dedicated eight of his 33 years to the tobacco harvest.

During the October to March harvest, Camejo picks tobacco leaves and hangs them in the shed on the Rosario plantation. Like the others, he is reticent when asked how he and his fellow workers could benefit from increased trade with the United States. “I wouldn’t know,” he told IPS.

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

He said he earns 1,200 Cuban pesos (50 dollars) a month during harvest season, and a bonus in convertible pesos after the plantation owner sells the tobacco to the state-run companies.

That is more than the average of 19 dollars a month earned by employees of the state, by far the largest employer in this Caribbean island nation. But it is not enough to cover people’s needs, given that food absorbs 59 to 75 percent of the family budget, according to the Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

“To reach a dominant position in markets, we have to grow from below, that is, in quality and yield, because Vuelta Abajo isn’t growing,” said Iván Máximo Pérez, the owner of the 5.4-hectare Rosario plantation, which produces 2.5 tons of tobacco leaves per hectare. “In terms of production, the sky is our limit,” he told IPS with a smile.

In his view, “tobacco is profitable to the extent that the producer is efficient.”

“The current harvests even allow me to afford some luxuries,” he admitted.

He said he continues to plant tobacco because “it’s a sure thing, since the state buys everything we produce, at fixed prices based on quality.”

Pérez, known as “El Gallego” (the Galician) among his people, because of his northern Spanish ancestry, is using new technologies on his farm, where he employs 10 men and eight women and belongs to one of the credit and services cooperatives that produce for the tobacco companies.

He has his own modern seedbed, is getting involved in conservation agriculture, plants different varieties of tobacco, uses organic fertiliser, and has cut insecticide use to 30 percent.

“I never thought I’d reach the yields I’m obtaining now,” he said. “Applying science and different techniques has made me see tobacco in a different light.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Reporting on Violence in Mexico Brings Its Own Perilshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:46:19 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139409 Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

Organised criminals in Mexico are forcing the media to stop reporting on crime, by turning their violence against journalists.

With the Mexican state offering journalists little protection, the resultant drop in freedom of information has contributed to a heightened sense of insecurity in the country."People are saying 'we are not going to cover certain areas', fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.” -- Claire San Filippo

Claire San Filippo, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Americas desk, told IPS that journalists in Mexico are self-censoring due to threats and violence, but also because violence against journalists is rarely punished by the state.

“It is of tremendous concern for information freedom because people are saying ‘we are not going to cover certain areas’, fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.”

San Filippo says that the state bears the primary duty under international law to protect journalists.

“The state obviously has a responsibility to protect the journalist, and to make sure that they can guarantee their security,” she said.

“There is a mechanism to actually protect human rights defenders and journalists and unfortunately, the mechanism hasn’t been working in a very efficient manner and hasn’t really helped the situation overall.”

The first two months of 2015 have already seen marked violence and intimidation towards journalists, including kidnappings and threats.

Reporting for Journalism in the Americas Mariana Muñoz wrote last week, “An increase in organized crime-related violence has terrorized the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas over the past week. Conflicts between rival cartel factions in the neighboring border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros have left dozens dead, escalating the present danger for journalists practicing in the region.​”

The newspaper El Mañana reported on a gunfight that killed nine people. Although they did not name any cartel individuals involved, their editor, Juárez Torres, was kidnapped and warned “We are going to kill you.”

Torres later “fled the country, half of the staff did not return to work the following day, and at least four journalists at the publication immediately announced their resignation,” Muñoz reported.

El Mañana has since avoided reporting on violent crime in Tamaulipas.

Speaking about Torres’ kidnapping and other similar incidents, San Filippo said, “When you look at the beginning of this year, it’s obviously dramatic and extremely preoccupying because we have journalists who say ‘we are not going to cover the issues of insecurity, violence and it’s consequences on people’ or we’re actually going to leave the country to go to the United States because we feel so unsecure.”

She says that Reporters Without Borders calls on the Mexican government to take the threats against journalists seriously and “not try to either diminish them or try to discredit the journalists by saying that they are actually not journalists and saying they are not related.”

She said the state should also provide timely and effective protection to journalists and their families when the journalists request it and importantly, must hold perpetrators of violence against journalists accountable.

San Filippo said this was important so that “journalists can feel secure and feel that they can carry out their job without risking their lives or lives and physical integrity of their loved ones.”

“This is the only way that you can make sure that you can ensure that there is no self-censorship and journalists don’t feel that they have to go to another country to feel safe.”

Home of organised crime

According to In Sight Crime, a foundation that studies organised crime in the Americas, “Mexico is home to the (Western) hemisphere’s largest, most sophisticated and violent organized criminal gangs.”

“They traffic in illegal drugs, contraband, arms and humans, and launder their proceeds through regional moneychangers, banks and local economic projects. They have penetrated the police and border patrols on nearly every level, in some cases starting with recruits for these units. They play political and social roles in some areas, operating as the de facto security forces.”

Steve Killelea, executive chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace, wrote last year that since “the start of the calamitous drug war in 2007” Mexico has dropped 45 places on the International Peace Index – down to 133 of 162 countries on the most recent (2013) index.

Killelea says that although Mexico does well in terms of development indicators such as life expectancy and youth empowerment, its poor overall rating in peace is partly due to the consequences of violence against journalists and poor freedom of information.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Rousseff’s Brazil – No Country for the Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139404 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, some 200,000 peasant farmers still have no plot of their own to farm – a problem that the first administration of President Dilma Rousseff did little to resolve.

In its assessment of the situation in the 2011-2014 period, the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found the worst progress in that period in terms of agrarian reform in the last 20 years, one of the church-based organisation’s coordinators, Isolete Wichinieski, told IPS.

“Historically, there has been a high concentration of land in Brazil,” she said. But what is worrisome, she added, is that during the first presidency of Rousseff, whose second term started on Jan. 1, 2015, “land ownership has become even more concentrated.”

“There was a fall in the numbers of new rural settlements and of land titling in indigenous territories and ‘quilombos’ (communities of the descendants of African slaves), while on the other hand, investment in agribusiness and agro-industry grew,” said Wichinieski.

Social movements had hoped that Rousseff, who belongs to the left-wing Workers’ Party like her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), would take up the banner of democratisation of land ownership.

But her government’s economic policies have focused on incentives for agribusiness and agro-industry, mining and major infrastructure projects.

According to the CPT report, during the first Rousseff administration (2011-2014), 103,746 families were granted land under the government’s agrarian reform programme. But that figure is actually misleading, because in 73 percent of the cases, the land settlement process was already in progress before the president took office, and the families had already been counted in previous years.

If only the new families settled on plots of their own during Rousseff’s first administration are counted, the total shrinks to 28,000.

The government reported that in 2014 it regularised the situation of just 6,289 families – a number considered insignificant by the CPT.

Since 1995 agrarian reform was given a new boost, with the creation of a special ministry answering directly to the president, and other legal instruments, largely due to the intense lobbying and protests throughout the country by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

As a result, during the presidency of Luis Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), 540,704 families were given land, and 614,088 were settled on farms during Lula’s two terms (2003-2011), according to the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which reported that 9,128 rural settlements have been created since 2000.

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

In order for land reform to be effective, the CPT argues, more settlements must be created and the concentration of rural property ownership must be reduced in this country of 202 million people. But the organisation does not believe Rousseff is moving in that direction, Wichinieski said.

Agrarian reform was not on the agenda of the campaign that led to the president’s reelection in October, and the new government includes names from the powerful rural caucus in Congress, which represents agribusiness and agro-industry.

The agriculture minister is former senator Kátia Abreu, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture. She surprised people when she stated in a Feb. 5 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that there are no “latifundium” or large landed estates in Brazil.

“Abreu has backwards, outdated views of agriculture,” complained Wichinieski. “She denies that there is forced labour in the countryside, she isn’t worried about preserving the environment, and she argues in favour of the intensive use of agrochemicals in food production.”

The conflict over land has intensified, according to the CPT, with the expansion of livestock-raising and monoculture farming of soy, sugarcane, maize and cotton, and growing speculation by large landowners with close ties to politicians.

A typical case

One example is the case of the 20,000-hectare Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from the national capital, Brasilia, in the state of Goiás, part of which has been occupied by families belonging to the MST.

The property belongs to Senator Eunício Oliveira, considered the wealthiest candidate for governor in Brazil in the last elections.

In the Senate, Oliveira heads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Rousseff’s main ally in Congress. He served as communications minister under Lula in 2004-2005 and last year lost the elections for governor of the state of Ceará.

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Valdir Misnerovicz, one of the leaders of the MST, told IPS that the estate is unproductive and that its only purpose at this time is land speculation.

Strategically located between the municipalities of Alexânia, Abadiânia and Corumbá, Santa Mônica represents the largest land occupation by the MST in the last 15 years.

It all started on Aug. 31, when 3,000 families marched on foot and in 1,800 vehicles to the estate, part of which they occupied.

Since then, more than 2,000 men, women, children and elderly persons have been living in a camp and control 400 hectares of the estate. They are determined to win a portion of the land to farm.

This is one of the MST’s strategies, said Misnerovicz. “We occupy large areas of unproductive land. In the camp we grow a variety of food like green leafy vegetables, manioc, maize, rice, beans and squash. All of the families plant healthy food in chemical-free agroecological community gardens,” he said.

The tents in the Dom Tomás Balduíno camp were set up on the bank of a river that cuts across the estate, which comprises 90 different properties that the senator purchased over the last two decades.

“The day we got there, they tried to keep us out but there were thousands of us. We are never armed. Our strength is in the number of peasants who accompany us,” said Misnerovicz.

In November, a court ruled that Oliveira has the right to recover the property. But the MST leader is confident that despite the risk that the families will be evicted, they will be successful in their bid for the Santa Mônica estate to be expropriated under the land reform programme.

Misnerovicz said the government itself has encouraged the families occupying the land to continue negotiating.

“Then it would be possible, after a year, to make the biggest rural settlement in recent times in Brazil. We were with the president in January, who committed to a plan with targets for settling (MST) families camped around the country,” he said.

INCRA has avoided taking a public position on this specific case. But it pointed out that, by law, “all of the occupied properties are off-limits for inspections to evaluate the situation with a view to agrarian reform.”

The administrator of Santa Mônica, Ricardo Augusto, told IPS that the occupied area is productive agricultural property where soy, maize and beans are grown.

“The purchase of the property was notarised. The MST is not telling the truth. We advocate a negotiated, peaceful solution. Productive, occupied land can’t be expropriated, and there is no interest in selling the property,” he said.

But João Pedro, who was granted a plot of land in a municipality near Santa Mônica, sees things very differently.

During a Feb. 21 demonstration in favour of the occupation, near the camp, the farmer said the families camping there were merely seeking the enforcement of Brazil’s laws: “the land has a social function, and that’s all we want – for the constitution to be applied.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gazan Fishermen Dying to Survivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:03:34 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139389 Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea laps gently onto the white sandy beach near Gaza City’s port. Fishing boats dot the beach as fishermen tend to their boats and fix their nets.

However, this scenic and peaceful setting belies a depressing reality. Gaza’s once thriving fishing industry has been decimated by Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory since 2007.

Approximately 3,600 Gazan fishermen, and their dependents, estimated at over 30,000 people, used to rely on fishing for a living.

Fish also provided a basic source of food for Gaza’s poverty-stricken population of over 1.5 million people.“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families” – U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Following the blockade of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen have had to depend on aid to survive.

Mustafa Jarboua, 55, the father of 10 children from Shati refugee camp, sits on the beach near his boat mending his nets. He has been a fisherman for 17 years and has witnessed the fishing industry’s decline since Israel first started placing restrictions on the fishermen in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2007 blockade.

“Before the blockade I used to earn about NIS 2000-3000 per month (500-750 dollars),” he told IPS.

“Now I’m lucky if I can earn NIS 500-600 (126 -152 dollars) a month because we can only fish a few days each week depending on when there are sufficient fish.

“The shoals closer to shore have been depleted with most of the better quality fish at least nine miles out to sea. I have to rely on money from the Ministry of Social Affairs to survive.

“I can’t afford meat and have to buy second-hand clothes for my children. Buying treats on holidays is no longer possible,” said Jarboua.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “in the late 1990s, annual catches from the Gaza Strip’s four fishing wharves located in Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Gaza City averaged more than 3,500 tonnes and generated an annual income of over 10 million dollars.”

The already dire situation was exacerbated during last year’s July-August war with Israel, reducing the area in which the fishermen can fish to six nautical miles. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, the distance had been 20 nautical miles.

However, fishermen are still being shot at and killed and injured even within that 6-mile nautical zone.

Jarboua pointed to his boat and showed IPS the bullet holes where the Israeli navy had fired on him while out to sea.

Others fishermen have had their boats destroyed and been arrested, Jarboua’s friend Fathi Said, also from Shati camp, told IPS that his brother had been arrested by the Israelis several weeks ago while only five nautical miles out to sea.

Sami Al Quka, 35, from Shati had his hand blown off when the Israeli navy shot at him while he was within the approved fishing zone.

Brother Ibrahim Al Quka, 55, said he used to earn about 50-100 dollars a day before Israel’s blockade.

“Now on a good day I only earn about 30 dollars and then I can buy food for my family for a few days. After that I have to rely on the United Nations to survive,” Al Quka told IPS.

Oxfam GB confirms the fishermen’s claims: “Even when fishing within the six mile restriction, fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen – nearly as many as in all of 2013.”

OCHA reported in its weekly Humanitarian Report in mid-February that “incidents involving Israeli forces opening fire into the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) on land and at sea continued on a daily basis, with at least 17 such incidents reported during the week.”

“In at least two incidents,” said the report, “Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats reportedly sailing within the Israeli-declared six nautical mile fishing limit, forcing them ashore.

“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families.”

Gaza’s farmers are also unable to access their land near the borders with Israel which is imposing “security zones” of up to 1.5 km in some of Gaza’s most fertile land. Dozens of farmers have been shot and killed or injured after trying to reach their farms.

The Gaza Strip’s dense population is crammed into an area 6-12 km wide by 41 km in length.

Gaza’s struggling economy has been further battered by Israel’s almost complete ban on exports, including manufactured goods and agricultural products which formed a major part of its economy, and imports.

“Severe trade restrictions on both imports and exports have stifled the private sector, forcing several thousands of businesses to close in the past few years,” according to the ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector‘ report produced by the Palestinian Government, European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“Since the economic blockade (which Egypt has now joined) was put in place in 2007, exports from Gaza have dropped by 97 per cent,” added the report. “Even companies that are still operating can only produce at high risk and with limited profit, due to elevated production costs, widespread power cuts and the almost complete ban on exports.”

“The basic needs of Gazans are not being met,” Arwa Mhanna from Oxfam told IPS. “Poverty is deepening, vital services have been affected and livelihoods crippled. The situation is moving towards more violence and further humanitarian tragedy.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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WHO Releases New Syringe Safety Policy to Prevent Diseasehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/who-releases-new-syringe-safety-policy-to-prevent-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-releases-new-syringe-safety-policy-to-prevent-disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/who-releases-new-syringe-safety-policy-to-prevent-disease/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:55:27 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139388 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a new policy on safe practices around syringe use, saying 90 percent of injections worldwide are unnecessary.

The WHO has recommended the use of ‘smart syringes,’ to reduce the number of infections from used syringes.

“The surest way to protect against unsafe injections is to use devices for injections that have been engineered so they cannot be reused and don’t lead to accidental needle stick injuries among health workers,” the organisation said in a report released Monday.

Syringes that disable if attempted to be used twice, and models where a cover slides over the needle after injection, have been put forward by the WHO as ways to reduce diseases caused by used syringes.

The WHO has urged all countries to begin use of the new ‘smart syringes’ by 2020.

“Syringes without safety features cost US$ 0.03 to 0.04 when procured by a UN agency for a developing country. The new “smart” syringes cost at least twice that much,” the report claims.

“WHO is calling on donors to support the transition to these devices, anticipating that prices will decline over time as demand increases.

A 2014 WHO report stated that in 2010, unsafe injections saw 34,000 people infected with HIV, 1.7million infected with Hepatitis B and 315,000 with Hepatitis C.

A lack of funds, equipment or both are often behind the reusing of needles in poorer parts of the world.

“Adoption of safety-engineered syringes is absolutely critical to protecting people worldwide from becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. This should be an urgent priority for all countries,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department.

The report also said accidental infection rates could be even further lowered through the elimination of unnecessary injections. The WHO claims up to 90 percent of the 16 billion injections administered around the world each year could be avoided altogether, or replaced with an oral pill.

“WHO urges reduction in the number of unnecessary injections as an urgent and critical strategy for reducing transmission of viral infections,” the report said.

Much progress has been made in the campaign for syringe safety. In terms of infections from unsafe injections, the WHO reports a 91 percent reduction in Hepatitis C infections; an 87 percent reduction in HIV infections; and an 83 percent reduction in Hepatitis B infections. Reuse of injection equipment dropped 86 percent in the same period.

The WHO has urged donors and development partners to only fund the purchase of “safety engineered” syringes, as well as further equipment to encourage needles to only be used once, and for manufacturers to ramp up production of safer syringes.

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Study Shows Shift in Level of Social Hostility Involving Religionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:56:07 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139387 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Social hostilities involving religion have declined worldwide, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

The latest data show that after reaching a six-year peak in 2012, the state of religious tolerance improved in 2013 in most of the 198 countries analysed in the report.

The share of countries with high or very high level of religious hostilities dropped from 33 per cent in 2012 to 27 per cent in 2013. However, a quarter of the world’s countries are still struggling with high levels of hostilities and government restrictions.

Acts of religious hostility range from vandalism, such as the ruining of religious buildings and the desecration of sacred texts, to violent assaults resulting in injuries and deaths.

The U.S. think tank’s study was measured on the basis of two indices, the Social Hostilities Index (SHI) and the Government Restriction Index (GRI). The first includes hostile actions from individuals, organisations or groups in society, like mobs or sectarian violence. The second keeps track of laws and policies that restrict religious beliefs and practices.

Following this distinction, while the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion fell six per cent between 2012 and 2013, the share of countries with a high or very high level of political restrictions on religion only fell two per cent.

The share of countries with government restriction was 27 per cent in 2013 compared to 29 per cent in 2012. Most of those countries have discriminatory policies towards, and place outright bans on, certain faiths.

Overall, whether resulting from social hostilities or government actions, figures show a high or very high level of religious repression in 39 per cent of countries in 2013. Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, the ones with the greatest limitations were Myanmar, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. China had the highest level for GRI and India for SHI.

In recent years, religious harassment of Jews increased, reaching a seven-year high in 2013. In that year, Jews were plagued either by government or social groups in 77 countries. In Europe, Jews were harassed by social groups in 34 countries.

The analysis was conducted in order to observe the extent to which governments and societies around the world impact religious beliefs and practices. It is the sixth in a series of Pew studies on religious hostilities, which are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project looking at religious change and its effect on societies around the world.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

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All-Out War in Libya Predicted without Further Peace Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/all-out-war-in-libya-predicted-without-further-peace-talks/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:28:46 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139386 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Libya is teetering on the edge of all-out war, with a brutal stalemate and misery for civilians predicted unless a recent minor diplomatic breakthrough can be built upon.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation working to prevent and resolve conflict, warned Thursday of a “dramatic turning point” in the “deteriorating internal conflict,” with a descent into social radicalism predicted.

“The most likely medium-term prospect is not one side’s triumph, but that rival local warlords and radical groups will proliferate, what remains of state institutions will collapse… and hardship for ordinary Libyans will increase exponentially,” the ICG said in a report, ‘Libya: Getting Gevena Right.’

“Radical groups… will find fertile ground, while regional involvement – evidenced by retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes – will increase.”

The ICG called on parties to the conflict to continue negotiations commenced in Geneva in January, which ended with no resolution but a commitment to extend talks.

Claudia Gazzini, ICG’s Libya Senior Analyst, said any full-scale war would likely descend into stalemate.

“Libya is split between two sides claiming increasingly threadbare legitimacy, flirting with jihadi radicals and pursuing politics through militia war backed by foreign powers,” she said.

“[The] Tobruk and Tripoli authorities are equally matched, and cannot defeat each other. To save the country they must negotiate a national unity government.”

On Feb. 20, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said “a political solution to the current crisis must be found quickly to restore peace and stability in the country and confront terrorism.”

The conflict in Libya – between the elected government of Libya, based in Tobruk, and forces aligned to its opposition party, based in Tripoli – has been ongoing since May 2014. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant) forces entered the conflict in October, taking control of areas in eastern Libya.

Reliable numbers of casualties have not been released. A U.N. Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) report in December 2014 stated only that “hundreds” had been killed in preceding months, including 450 people in Benghazi and 100 people in western Libya.

The website libyabodycount.org, which claims to assemble death tolls from media reports, states 2,825 people were killed in Libya in 2014, and 380 have been killed in 2015.

UNSMIL said in December at least 215,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.

In January, representatives of the fighting factions met in Geneva for two rounds of talks. ICG said it was the first time since September 2014 such negotiations had taken place, with talks focusing on what form a Libyan unity government would take.

The ICG urged the U.N. to push for further talks, as well as to ask “regional actors who contribute to the conflict by providing arms or other military or political support – notably Chad, Egypt, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates… to press their Libyan allies to negotiate in good faith in pursuit of a political settlement.”

Jean Marie Guehenno, president of ICG, said organising further negotiations was essential in staving off deterioration in the conflict.

“January’s UN achievement in bringing the Libyan sides together for national unity talks in Geneva offers a glimmer of hope. This breakthrough should encourage the UN Security Council to unite,” he said.

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Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139383 Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sometimes a Single Tree Is More Effective than a Governmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 20:03:16 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139375 Every morning Raj Kumari Chaudhari offers prayers to this mango tree where she took shelter during the floods in 2014 in mid-west Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Every morning Raj Kumari Chaudhari offers prayers to this mango tree where she took shelter during the floods in 2014 in mid-west Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
BARDIYA, Nepal, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Every morning, Raj Kumari Chaudhari walks from her home to the other end of Padnaha village, located in the Bardiya district of mid-west Nepal, to a big mango tree to offer prayers.

The tree is majestic, its branches spreading as far as the eye can see. “This tree doesn’t bear fruit, but it saved my family from death,” she says. In her eyes, this single tree did more for her family at their time of need than the government of Nepal.

“We’re no strangers to rebuilding our lives […] but I hope my daughters won’t have to do it over and over again, like we did.” -- Raj Kumari Chaudhari, a survivor of the floods that swept away her village in mid-West Nepal in August, 2014
On the night of Aug. 14, 2014, Chaudhari lost her home when a big flood washed her entire village away. Her husband grabbed their eldest daughter, while she carried her twins on her shoulders, and ran.

When they reached the other side of the village, they realized there was no escape. They climbed the nearest tree and took shelter. In a matter of minutes 11 other people from her village had climbed the tree.

“My six-month old baby was the youngest amongst us, I tied him with my shawl so he wouldn’t fall,” says Kalpana Gurung, 27.

Bardiya, one of three districts in mid-west Nepal, was the hardest hit by last year’s flood; the District Disaster Relief Committee of Bardiya says more than 93,000 people were affected.

The gushing waters killed 32 and 13 still remain missing. Almost 5,000 people were affected in Padnaha village where the Chaudhari family lived.

The year 2014 was considered the deadliest on record in Nepal in terms of natural disasters. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs 492 people were killed and over 37,000 households affected by disasters between April 2014 and February 2015.

Still, experts say, the government hasn’t formulated a long-term response for those like the Chaudhari family who survived these catastrophic events.

Raj Kumari and Hira Lal Chaudhari, their 11-year-old daughter, and their eight-year-old twins survived the August 2014 flood in mid-west Nepal by climbing a mango tree and waiting for the waters to recede. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Raj Kumari and Hira Lal Chaudhari, their 11-year-old daughter, and their eight-year-old twins survived the August 2014 flood in mid-west Nepal by climbing a mango tree and waiting for the waters to recede. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

It took the community of Padnaha five months to get their lives back together. Now 12 families have rebuilt their homes. “This entire village was like a desert after the floods,” Raj Kumari Chaudhari, one of the survivors recalls. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

It took the community of Padnaha five months to get their lives back together. Now 12 families have rebuilt their homes. “This entire village was like a desert after the floods,” Raj Kumari Chaudhari, one of the survivors, recalls. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

“The government has no direction, no plans for rehabilitating survivors – those who lost [their] lands essentially became stateless,” says Madhukar Upadhya, a watershed and landslide management expert.

After the 2008 flooding of the Koshi River in east Nepal the government established a disaster-training centre, the police force now has a disaster division and Nepal’s army has a disaster directorate. But the government’s focus is on rescue and relief, and not rehabilitation and resettlement, experts say.

Living on a knife’s edge in disaster-prone Nepal

Chaudhari’s family and the majority of her neighbours are from the Tharu community, indigenous to western Nepal. They are former ‘kamaiya’, meaning people affected by the oppressive system of bonded labour that was abolished by law only in 2002.

After being liberated, her family were evicted from their homes by their former masters and lived out in the open for years. Two years ago, the government finally resettled them in Padnaha.

“It took us a long time to build our homes, the kids were finally feeling settled, and then the floods washed away everything,” Chaudhari tells IPS.

After spending 24 hours on the tree branches, water swirling below, Chaudhari and her family were finally able to come down and rush to a school nearby. When the water level receded, they saw that everything had been washed away.

“We may have lost our homes and belongings, but unlike other survivors of floods and landslides, we still had our lands to come back to,” says 18-year old Sangita, another tree survivor.

With assistance in the form of raw materials from Save the Children, and Nepal’s 13-day Cash for Work programme that provided them 3.5 dollars a day for their labour, the community started to rebuild.

In a matter of a few days 12 households cleared away the debris and erected their huts.

Kalpana Gurung inspects her vegetable garden and hopes she will harvest enough green leafy vegetables for her family this spring. As a nursing mother, she is worried she won’t be able to provide enough nutrition to her nine-month-old baby. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Kalpana Gurung inspects her vegetable garden and hopes she will harvest enough green leafy vegetables for her family this spring. As a nursing mother, she is worried she won’t be able to provide enough nutrition to her nine-month-old baby. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eleven-year-old Saraswati Chaudhari and her twin sisters Puja and Laxmi are ready for school. Activists say the government must formulate a comprehensive disaster management plan to safeguard families living in disaster-prone areas. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eleven-year-old Saraswati Chaudhari and her twin sisters Puja and Laxmi are ready for school. Activists say the government must formulate a comprehensive disaster management plan to safeguard families living in disaster-prone areas. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Sangita remembers the night when she woke up to water surrounding her bed. Pointing at the tree where she took shelter she says, “That tree over there saved my life, but I want to forget about that horrible night.” Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Sangita remembers the night when she woke up to water surrounding her bed. Pointing at the tree where she took shelter she says, “That tree over there saved my life, but I want to forget about that horrible night.” Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Today, Chaudhari has planted some vegetables in the garden, an additional source of nutrition for her family. She is worried that what happened last year may happen again and she realizes now that she has to be prepared.

Climate experts say that the little model community is not sustainable – changes in weather patterns mean that every monsoon is likely to bring floods and even landslides to vulnerable regions of Nepal.

A study released last year by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) found that climate variability and extreme weather events costs the government of Nepal the equivalent of between 1.5 and two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

Twelve massive floods over the last four decades have cost every single affected household, on average, the equivalent of 9,000 dollars.

Considering that the country’s average income per family was about 2,700 dollars in 2011, this represents a major burden, borne primarily by the poor – like the Chaudhari family – who live in disaster-prone areas.

Every year since 1983, floods in Nepal have caused an average of 283 deaths, destroyed over 8,000 houses and left close to 30,000 affected families to deal with the fallout of the disaster.

As Chaudhari gazes off into the distance towards their sacred mango tree she says, “We’re no strangers to rebuilding our lives […] but I hope my daughters won’t have to do it over and over again, like we did.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Families of ‘Desaparecidos’ Take Search into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:33:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139372 “Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Carlos Trujillo refuses to give up, after years of tirelessly searching hospitals, morgues, prisons, cemeteries and clandestine graves in Mexico, looking for his four missing brothers.

The local shopkeeper has left no stone unturned and no clue unfollowed since his brothers Jesús, Raúl, Luís and Gustavo Trujillo vanished – the first two on Aug. 28, 2008 in the southern state of Guerrero and the last two on Sep. 22, 2010 on a highway that joins the southern states of Puebla and Veracruz.

“The case has gone nowhere; four agents were assigned to it, but there’s still nothing concrete, so I’m forging ahead and I won’t stop until I find them,” Trujillo told IPS.

On Feb. 18, Trujillo and other relatives of “desaparecidos” or victims of enforced disappearance founded the group Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera – named after his mother – as part of the growing efforts by tormented family members to secure institutional support for the investigations they themselves carry out.

“We want to create a network of organisations of victims’ families,” the activist explained. “One of the priorities is to strengthen links and networking, to ensure clarity in the search process, and to share tools. The aim is for the families themselves to carry the investigations forward.”

The group is investigating the disappearance of 18 people. Prior to the creation of the organisation, some of the members found six people alive, in the last two years.“Each one of us started with our own particular case. We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.” -- Diana García

With determination and courage, the family members visit morgues, police stations, prisons, courtrooms, cemeteries and mass graves, trying to find their lost loved ones, or at least some clue that could lead them in the right direction.

The group grew out of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which in 2011 brought together the families of victims of the wave of violence in Mexico, and held peace caravans throughout the country and even parts of the United States, where the movement protested that country’s anti-drug policy.

Enforced disappearance became a widespread phenomenon since the government of conservative Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drug trafficking.” His successor, the conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved the problem, which has become one of the worst tragedies in Latin America’s recent history.

But the phenomenon has only drawn international attention since the disappearance of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, which exposed a cocktail of complicity and corruption between the police and the mayor of the town of Iguala and a violent drug cartel operating in Guerrero.

Thursday marks the five month anniversary of their disappearance.

The families have not stopped their indefatigable search for the students, even though the attorney general’s office announced a month ago that they were killed by the organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos” and their bodies were burnt.

The humanitarian crisis prompted the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances to demand on Feb. 13 that Mexico pass specific laws to combat the problem, create a registry of victims, carry out proper investigations, and provide justice and reparations to the victims’ families.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people went missing between 2007 and October 2014. However, the office does not specifically indicate how many of these people were victims of enforced disappearance, as opposed to simply missing. Human rights organisations put the figure at 22,600 for that period.

Most enforced disappearances are blamed on drug cartels, which dispute smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. market, in some cases with the participation of corrupt local or national police. The victims are mainly men from different socioeconomic strata, between the ages of 20 and 36.

“Each one of us started with our own particular case,” Diana García, whose son was disappeared, told IPS. “We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.”

Her son, Daniel Cantú, disappeared on Feb. 21, 2007 in the city of Ramos Arizpe in the northern state of Coahuila.

García, who has two other children and belongs to the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, is convinced that only by working together can people exert enough pressure on the government to get it to search for their missing loved ones.

With the support of the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios, a church-based human rights organisation, a group of family members of victims came together and founded Fuerzas Unidas in 2009, which is searching for a total of 344 people.

The organisation successfully advocated the creation of a new local law on the declaration of absence of persons due to disappearance, in effect since May 2014, as well as the classification of enforced disappearance as a specific crime in the state of Coahuila.

Other groups have emerged, such as Ciencia Forense Ciudadana (Citizen Forensic Science), founded in September to create a forensic and DNA database.

“The initiative is aimed at a massive identification drive,” one of the founders of the organisation, Sara López, told IPS. “To do this we need a registry of victims of disappearance, a genetic database, and a databank for what has been found in clandestine graves.”

The project plans to cover 450 families affected by enforced disappearance and to reach 1,500 DNA samples. So far it has gathered 550, and it has representatives – victims’ relatives – in 10 of the country’s 33 states.

On Feb. 16, Ciencia Forense identified the remains of Brenda González, who went missing on Jul. 31, 2011 in Santa Catarina, in the northern state of Nuevo León, with the support of an independent forensic investigation carried out by the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

“With the organisation that we just created, we will also try to provide a broad assessment of the question of enforced disappearances,” Trujillo said.

Human rights organisations say that until the case of the missing Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college students erupted, the authorities did very little to combat the phenomenon, and failed to adopt measures to comply with sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The plight of the families is described in the song “Desaparecido” by French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao, dedicated to the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in Latin America and their families: “I carry in my body a pain that doesn’t let me breathe, I carry in my body a doom that forces me to keep moving.”

And their lives are put on hold while they visit registries, fill out paperwork, lobby, take innumerable risks, and rack up expenses as they search for their loved ones and other desaparecidos.

“For now, I’m not interested in justice or reparations,” said García. “What I want is to know the truth, what happened, where he is. I’m looking for him alive but I know that in the context we’re living in there may be a different outcome. It’ll probably take me many years and I am desperate, but I continue the struggle.”

Her organisation, Fuerzas Unidas, drew up a plan that includes the analysis of crime maps, a genetic registry, awareness-raising campaigns, and proposed measures to hold those responsible for botched investigations accountable.

“The families are more familiar with the situation than anyone else, they know what has to be done. The problem is that we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico,” said López.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mobile Technology a Lever for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:49 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139367 For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Providing women with greater access to mobile technology could increase literacy, advance development and open up much-needed educational and employment opportunities, according to experts at the fourth United Nations’ Mobile Learning Week conference here.

“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The agency, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women, joined forces with its “sister” organisation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to host the Feb. 23-27 conference this year.“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

The aim, UNESCO said, was to give participants a venue “to learn about and discuss technology programmes, initiatives and content that are alleviating gender deficits in education.”

Participants from more than 70 countries shared so-called best practices and presented a range of initiatives to address the issue, including reducing the costs of access to mobile services in some developing countries, and providing training and free laptops to women teachers in countries such as Israel.

“There is still a persistent gender gap in access to mobile technology,” said keynote speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In an interview on the side-lines of the conference, she told IPS that “anything that encourages the education of girls is important” and that it was “particularly significant” that UNESCO and UN Women had joined forces to work together in this area to achieve results.

“We need to encourage women to use technology and we also need to involve men to provide support,” Blair said. She cited research showing that a woman in a low- or middle-income country is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In Africa, the figure is 23 percent less likely, and in the Middle East and South Asia 24 percent and 37 percent respectively.

“The reasons women cite for not owning a mobile phone include the costs of handsets and data plans, lack of need and fear of not being able to master the technology,” Blair said.

Yet, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile phones are the “most pervasive and rapidly adopted technology in history”, with six billion of the world’s seven billion people now having access.

If there existed gender parity in this access, women could benefit from the technology in a number of ways, including getting information about healthcare and other services, experts said.

They could also potentially follow massive open online courses (MOOCS) such as those offered by an increasing number of universities and other institutions, despite on-going controversy about their benefits. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in MOOCs are men, and often from wealthy backgrounds, surveys suggest.

Whether women live in low-income or rich countries, learning how to use technology could have future benefits especially regarding employment, said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer.

“Ninety percent of jobs in the future are going to require ICT skills,” he told IPS in an interview. “So any idea that it’s not socially or culturally acceptable for women to use technology is extremely dangerous.”

He said the fact that 25 percent fewer women than men currently access the Internet “was alarming” and that changes needed to occur early in education so that girls were not left out of future jobs.

“We don’t often realise how gendered our perceptions of technology are,” he added. “Women are taught from a young age to not like technology, taught that maths and science are not for them, and this is a big problem.”

At university level, only about 20 percent of female students are pursuing careers in computer science, and in the technology sector, only six percent of CEOs are women, according to the ITU.

“We should do more to get women in STEM fields,” said Doreen Bogdan, ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some participants highlighted current programmes to keep girls interested in science, such as camps run by the California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm, which brings sixth-grade female students together to learn coding and tech skills, and does follow-up work with them as they continue their education.

“All of the tech companies are fighting for the same talent pool and there are not enough females in that talent pool because not enough girls are studying it,” said Angela Baker, a senior manager at Qualcomm.

“There’s a ton of research that shows that when you have more women in the industry, companies tend to do better … so we have a vested interest in building that pipeline of girls and women,” she told IPS.

Apart from the STEM fields, girls have made great strides in education over the past 30 years, but there is “still a long way to go,” said experts, who cited U.N. figures showing that globally there are seven girls to every 10 boys in school.

Both UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and Cherie Blair described education as a “human rights imperative” as well as a development and security imperative.

They stressed that the goal of achieving gender equality in education will continue for the post-2015 development agenda, and that technology has an important role to play.

“Empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative,” Blair said.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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