Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 30 May 2016 18:14:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 Achieving Universal Access to Energy; Africa Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Placehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 14:52:06 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145363 African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, May 30 2016 (IPS)

“It is unacceptable that 138 years after Thomas Edison developed the light bulb, hundreds of millions of people cannot have access to electricity to simply light up the bulb in Africa,” says Africa Development Bank (AfDB) Group President, Akinwumi Adesina, mourning the gloomy statistics showing that over 645 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, while over 700 million are without clean energy for cooking.

Adesina attributes Africa’s poverty and the perennial migration of youths to Europe in search of a good life, to lack of energy. “Even insects run from the dark to where there is light. Our youths are running away, hundreds of them drowning but the future of African’s youth does not lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea,” he declared during the official opening of the just ended 51st AfDB annual meetings held in Lusaka, from 23-27 May under the theme, ‘Energy and Climate Change’.

It is for this reason that top on the list of the bank’s strategies for all—referred to as the High fives (5s), is Light Up and Power Africa, with the goal of achieving universal access to energy for Africa within ten years through expansion of grid power by 160 gigawatts to connect 130 million people, and 75 million people to off-grid systems.

“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark,” said Adesina, outlining AfDB’s strategy to achieve universal access to energy which he believes, would unlock Africa’s potential to feed itself, achieve industrialisation, integration and ultimately improve the quality of life for the people.

However, ambition alone is not enough—it requires a realistic roadmap. And for the bank, the plan is to increase investment into the energy sector. “To deliver on the New Deal on Energy for Africa, the African Development Bank will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years,” he said, adding that, with this investment, the bank expects to leverage $45-50 billion.

But with the 2015 Paris climate agreement centred on a transition to renewable energy, Africa may have to re-think its strategies on how to achieve its ambitious dream. And this was one key question that divided opinion at the 2016 AfDB annual meetings—Should Africa lead the way on Green growth or follow a carbon intensive path that the developed countries took to achieve industrialisation?

Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo argued for Africa’s right to do so. “We in Africa must use what we have to get what we need. The West used coal to develop and I think we should also be allowed to pollute a bit and then, we will all join in cleaning up,” said Obasanjo during a panel discussion on Africa’s New Deal on Energy, one of the bank’s initiatives launched during the annual meetings.

While Obasanjo’s line of thought seemed out of place considering the world’s renewable energy push, there was a sense of support for the continent’s right to develop as it pleases, especially that big polluters are seemingly elusive on financial support and emission cuts.

“We first have to get access to energy for us to know which one is clean and which one is dirty,” said Chadian President, Idris Derby, the current African Union Chairman, before the host President, Edgar Lungu summarised Africa’s dilemma.

“It is always challenging to make a choice when you don’t have what to choose from…while we need to provide universal access to energy, climate change hinders our efforts, as some approaches are considered dirty,” said Lungu, highlighting his own country’s energy challenges emanating from poor rainfall in two consecutive seasons leading to low water levels for electricity generation at its main hydro power stations.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, were more concerned as to whether renewable energy is a realistic option in relation to the industrialisation agenda on the continent.

“For us, we think renewable energy and climate change are serious but development of our people is a priority. Africa’s situation is unique, for example, we have been talking about industry here which requires base load power and this might require countries to put up hundreds of hectares of solar plants to achieve the needed power,” said Osinbajo, whose sentiments seemed to sum up those of Paul Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta as expressed during a televised panel discussion.

The underlying tone of African leaders in these discussions pointed to inconsistent flow of climate finance and technology transfer—a subject of debate at the core of the continent’s development, in relation to climate change.

Climate change is real and it is unanimously agreed by both the North and the South that Africa is at the receiving end. This therefore entails climate justice through finance for the continent which has been short changed by climate change.

The argument is that Africa must be supported financially to adapt to negative effects of climate change ravaging its people, but at the same time play a key role in mitigation efforts. However, the much debated climate finance has not been forthcoming.

“Very little money is flowing into adaptation and the bank is concerned with this trend…wants to see more resources also being channeled to adaptation as the case is with mitigation where a huge chunk of resources is being invested,” observes Kurt Lonsway, the AfDB Manager of the Environment and Climate Change division.

The inconsistent flow of financial resources, coupled with lukewarm emission cut commitments by the developed world, could be the cause for African leaders’ defying tone to take a lead on renewable energy despite being fully in support of the Paris climate deal.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

And former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson is alive to this state of affairs. However, she wants African leaders to use their collective voice to demand for climate justice.

“Climate finance is no longer about aid to Africa but the means by which to serve the world from catastrophic climate change. I therefore plead with you, African leaders to use your collective voice to get what you want,” stressed the former Irish President who now heads the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.

But former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s concern is African leaders’ political will. “The transformation we seek also requires decisive action on the part of Africa’s leaders in reforming inefficient, inequitable and often corrupt utilities that have failed to provide firms with a reliable power supply and people with access to electricity,” said the former top UN diplomat, who now chairs the Africa Progress Panel.

Whichever route Africa takes to achieve its ambition of universal access to energy, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopez wants Africa to do it with its own money because “donor money has been a disappointment, slow and not reliable.”

For Caroline Kende-Robb, Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, African countries will have to choose an energy mix that suits them because “we cannot certainly expect Africa just to drop from fossil fuels while there are other countries at the top polluting the world.”

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New International Accord to Tackle Illegal Fishinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 16:27:29 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145337 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/feed/ 0 Malawi’s Drought Leaves Millions High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 15:27:22 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145335 Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, May 27 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday, market day at the popular Bvumbwe market in Thyolo district. About 40 kilometers away in Chiradzulu district, a vegetable vendor and mother of five, Esnart Nthawa, 35, has woken up at three a.m. to prepare for the journey to the market.

The day before, she went about her village buying tomatoes and okra from farmers, which she has safely packed in her dengu (woven basket).

Now she’s just waiting for a hired bicycle to take her and her merchandise to the bus station, where she will catch a minibus to Bvumbwe market. This way, her goods reach the market quicker and safer. Afterwards, she and her colleagues will pack their baskets and walk back home.

“We walk for at least three hours…our bodies have just gotten used to it because we have no choice. If I don’t do this, then my children will suffer. As I am talking to you now, they are waiting for me to bring them food,” Nthawa told IPS.

“I will buy a basin of maize there at the maize mill and have it processed into flour for nsima [a thick porridge that is Malawi’s staple food]. That’s the only meal they will eat today,” she said.

Nthawa added: “Last harvest we only realised two bags of maize as you know the weather was bad. That maize has now run out, we are living day by day…eating what we can manage to source for that day.”

Nthawa’s story resonates with many Malawians today. Almost half of the country’s population is facing hunger this year due to no or low harvests, resulting from the effects of El Nino which hit most parts of the southern and northern regions late last year.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda said in Parliament on May 25 that 8.4 million Malawians will be food insecure during the 2016/2017 season.

His statement clearly contradicts President Peter Mutharika, who on Friday said in his State of the Nation Address that 2.8 million people faced hunger.

The new high figure follows a World Food Programme Rapid assessment which said over eight million Malawians will be food insecure this year due to the effects of El Nino. Destructive floods in the north have compounded the country’s woes, causing the president to declare a state of emergency in April.

With the drought also affecting Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa, an estimated 28 million people are now going hungry.

In order to deal with the crisis, Agriculture Minister Chaponda says the government has “laid out a plan to import about one million metric tons of white maize to fill the food gap”. The authorities project that at least 1,290,000 metric tons of maize are needed to deal with the food crisis, out of which 790,000 metric tons will be distributed to those heavily affected by the drought starting from April 2016 to March 2017.

The government also plans to intensify irrigation on commercial and smallholder farms, with an aim of increasing maize production at the national level. Officials say 18 million dollars is needed to carry out these measures.“There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption." -- Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya

In the meantime, food prices continue to rise daily as the national currency, the Kwacha, continues to depreciate, forcing poor farming families to reduce their number of meals per day or sell their property in order to cope with the situation. A bag of maize which normally sells for seven dollars now costs 15 dollars.

As usual, children have been hardest hit by the situation. The latest statistics on Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) show a 100 percent increase from December 2015 to January 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF says it recorded more than 4,300 cases of severe malnutrition in the month of January alone this year, double the number recorded in December 2015.

Dr. Queen Dube, a pediatrician at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre – the main government referral hospital in southern Malawi – affirmed to IPS that there has been an increase in the number of malnutrition cases at the hospital.

“At the moment, we have about 15 children admitted at our Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit…they have Marasmus, where they’re very thin or wasted, while others have Kwashiorkor, where the body is swollen. In other cases, the children have a combination of the two. These children suffer greatly from diarrheal diseases,” said Dube.

She added that the hospital offers these children therapeutic feeding of special types of milk and chiponde (fortified peanut butter) for a determined period of time, until they pick up in weight and improve in general body appearance.

“They are also given treatment for any underlying illness which they might have. Additionally, we also provide counseling to the mothers and guardians on proper nutrition so that when they get back home they can utilize the very little foods they have to prepare nutritious meals for their children,” she explained.

Rights activists say it is high time the authorities started taking on board recommendations on how to make Malawi food secure made by independent groups such as the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee-MVAC, which said 2.8 million people faced hunger in 2015.

Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya told IPS: “There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption. The government needs to use the data from MVAC as well as consider the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) and modalities to bring it to fruition.

Calling for greater diversity in the traditional diet, he said, “These plans can be effected as long as there‘s a sustained political will.”

In his state of the nation address on May 20, President Mutharika said the Green Belt Initiative was still his government’s priority “in order to increase productivity of selected high value crops.

“I am therefore pleased to report that construction of the irrigation infrastructure and the sugarcane factory in Salima district has been completed…the government has an ongoing Land Management Contract with Malawi Mangoes Limited where land has been provided for the production of bananas and mangoes,” he said.

In addition, the president said the government plans to increase rice production for both consumption and export, as well as make the tobacco industry vibrant again. Malawi mainly relies on tobacco for its foreign exchange earnings.

In February, President Mutharika made an international appeal for assistance, following which development partners including Britain and Japan provided over 35 million dollars. The government also obtained 80 million dollars from the World Bank for the Emergency Floods Recovery Project.

The U.S. government has been the first to respond to the latest crisis, providing the Malawian government with 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the struggle for survival continues for poor Malawian families such as Esnart Nthawa’s. Her children are still eating one meal a day, as those in power continue to meet to strategize on the crisis over fancy dinners in expensive hotels.

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Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Disaster-in-Waitinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-disaster-in-waiting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-disaster-in-waiting http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-disaster-in-waiting/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 15:51:01 +0000 Shamsuddoza Sajen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145322 www.worldtravelserver.com

www.worldtravelserver.com

By Shamsuddoza Sajen
May 26 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In a recent interview with BBC, India’s minister of water resources Uma Bharti unveiled her government’s massive plan to divert major rivers including the Ganges and Brahmaputra. According to the Guardian, the project is just waiting for a rubber stamp from the environment ministry of India. While we do not want to be alarmists, it is hard to ignore the fact that, if implemented, the project will rob Bangladesh, a riverine country, of her very lifelines.

The project involves channeling water away from the east and south of India to the drought-prone areas in the north and west through rerouting major river courses. This means digging canals everywhere to link rivers defying the ecology of the rivers. Bangladesh has been formed as the greatest deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers and their tributaries. So any diversion of the natural flow of the rivers will be like redrawing the geography of the area.

The project is based on an overestimation: diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas. Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) told the BBC, “There has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less”. In the dry season there is hardly enough water in the rivers to meet the minimum demands of the river-adjacent areas. Where is the surplus water for diversion? A ruling BJP member Murli Manohar Joshi aptly said that the plan would be like transferring wealth “from one beggar to another beggar.”

What basically goes wrong with the concept of the project is that it sees a river only as a source of water, not as an entire ecosystem. Any intervention in the ecosystem affects the whole community and wildlife dependent on the river. Thakkar accused the Indian water authority of disregarding this very fact. According to SANDRP, 1.5 million people will be displaced and 104,000 hectares of prime forested land will be submerged while the effects on other life forms are unpredictable. On our side, we are clueless because our water ministry does not have any substantial study on the possible consequences of the river linking plan. When asked about his reaction to this unilateral move by India, the state minister for water resources urged the Indian government, in his habitural manner, “to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration”. It seems our government was not even aware of the progress of the project that could spell disaster for Bangladesh.

India’s reply to Bangladesh’s concerns is equally vague: “We don’t have the details, but we will ensure Bangladesh gets its share of water too”, said a statement issued by water resources ministry of India. Such patronising rhetoric is hardly reassuring. We have learnt enough from the experience of the Farakka Dam which was built to divert water from Ganges to Hugli River. The reduction in water flow has proved disastrous for Bangladesh including the loss of fish species, the drying of Padma’s distributaries, increased saltwater intrusion from the Bay of Bengal, and damage to the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.

This unilateral move by India is a clear violation of the basic tenet of all the international regulations regarding water bodies i.e. no withdrawal from commonly shared water body without mutual agreement. The provisions of the Ganges Treaty unequivocally expressed resolve of both sides to solve the water sharing issue through mutual consultations and negotiations, and not to do anything detrimental to either side, specially the lower riparian.

But we also failed to raise or even hint at the issue of India’s grand design which, if ever implemented, would create consequences, equal to half a dozen Farakka dams combined together, strangling the existence of Bangladesh. Does it reflect our overall apathy towards our rivers? Our rivers are dying of thirst due to rampant encroachment and pollution. We couldn’t care less. It seems we are more interested in politicising the water issue rather than protecting our water sources, upon which our lives depend.

The writer is Sr. Editorial Assistant at The Daily Star. E-mail: sajen1986@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Water Woes Put a Damper on Myanmar’s Surging Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:10:46 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145291 People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
HTITA, Myanmar, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

Using water resources more wisely is critical, according to NGOs and institutional actors like the Global Water Partnership, which organized a high-level roundtable on water security issues in Yangon on May 24. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi now faces the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the country’s rapid economic growth.

 

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A water carrier in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A water carrier in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Members of Myanmar's Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Members of Myanmar’s Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A temporary water tank in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A temporary water tank in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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Bangladeshi Shrimp Farmers See Big Money in Small Fryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 12:29:18 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145288 Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
BAGERHAT, Bangladesh, May 25 2016 (IPS)

Frozen tiger shrimp exports from Bangladesh, mainly to the United States and the European Union, have grown substantially over the years and the demand keeps increasing.

The industry is now getting an extra boost from the introduction of better technology that uses pathogen-free shrimp larvae or fry and the use of improved shrimp farming practices.

Introduction of the modern technology is predicted to further boost frozen shrimp exports from Bangladesh, lifting current export earnings from 600 million to 1.5 billion dollars, and putting the shrimp industry at third place in terms of foreign exchange earnings. Currently, Bangladesh is ranked fifth in the world for farmed tiger shrimp production.

More than 65,000 shrimp farmers, located mostly in the southwestern districts of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira, are adopting the technology known as Extensive Shrimp Farming (ESF), with 20,000 practicing Modified Traditional Technology (MTT).

With technical support from WorldFish, a nonprofit research group that works to reduce poverty in the developing world, many farmers have already learned how to produce quality shrimp in abundant quantities on the same piece of land – although environmentalists have repeatedly warned of adverse consequences from the use of agricultural land for the saltwater shrimp farming."The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.” -- A shrimp farmer in Panirhat

Unlike integrated shrimp farming, where small freshwater prawns are grown with other fish and vegetables, ESF replaces indigenous practices with more modern methods that promise greater yields per hectare of land.

Currently, around 20,000 shrimp farmers in the region practice the new technology on about 30,000 hectares of land covering some 25,000 registered low depth enclosures with raised embankments popularly known as ghers.

Situated in a specific geographic locality stretching hundreds of kilometers, these ghers depend on the same seawater source channeled from the Bay of Bengal and captured during storm surge seasons.

Sujit Mondol, 28, is one of the farmers in Khulna’s coastal area of Borodanga village who was selected in 2012, among many, for a one-year training on ESF under a WorldFish project called Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition, or AIN. He told IPS how he and others benefited from the training programme held in the village he lives in.

“It was in my gher where WorldFish had set up demonstration for learning for a group of farmers. We received hands-on training of different stages of the technique from nursing post larvae to growing the adult tiger shrimps which grow on average six to eight inches, each weighing 35 to 40 grammes,” Mondol said confidently.

“The specialty in MTT method is the use of deeper enclosures that are dug about four feet deep and are maintained very clean. Traditional farming is done in lowlands and canals. But the new technology requires carefully laid-out embankments in a controlled environment so that the temperature, which of course is a major factor in shrimp cultivation, can be controlled to avoid shrimp being exposed to heat and diseases.”

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

As the name itself suggests, MTT (or ESF) uses some modifications like the use of nurseries, deeper water bodies and cleaner environments. Traditional shrimp farming practices place larvae directly in the ghers instead of in nurseries. But the nursery phase has some added advantages – the survival rate of the larvae increases and so does productivity.

A farmer in Panirhat in Bagerhat said, “We have already noticed the increase in production of the shrimps. MTT method of shrimp farming gives at least 25-35 percent more shrimps than the traditional ghers practices. The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.”

Sujit earned 5,600 dollars last year from cultivating shrimp on his gher on about 350 decimals of land in just one season. The following year, Mondol, not surprisingly, made more money – 7,500 dollars from ghers on about 200 decimals of land. During the same period in previous years, Sujit earned less than half of the amount he disclosed.

Quazi A Z M Kudrat-E-Kabir, AIN’s project manager, told IPS, “Our efforts are intended to facilitate capacity building of the shrimp farmers. Initially we had tough time pursuing farmers about their doubts over encouraging harvest. Our challenge was to clear the clouds. In less than two years farmers are now showing tremendous enthusiasm as uncertainties disappeared in practical life.”

Like Mondol, Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Panirhat in neighbouring Bagerhat district, also made fortune from using the modified technology.

“At the beginning, I had doubts on additional yield,” Sheikh said. “They say that they got double yield in the deeper enclosure ghers than the traditional ghers that uses low depth (about two feet). The result was more obvious when I applied the technique.”

In just the last few months, more than 6,000 shrimp farmers in Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira have adopted the new technology, and the demand keeps increasing.

With the help of USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), in 2014 WorldFish introduced pathogen-free post larvae or shrimp fries called specific pathogen free (SPF) which gives farmers extra security against loss from diseases, in particular the most common, the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV), which poses a serious threat to the industry.

“It is indeed splendid to have such innovative technology that really benefits us,” said Munir Hussain, a shrimp farmer in Jewdhara village in Morolganj of Bagerhat district who introduced SFP larvae in the same gher where ESF is introduced.

Before introduction of the globally recognized SPF, farmers suffered heavy losses from infected shrimp. Hundreds of ghers would suffer as the virus spread among them.

“It is important that all farmers in a community stock SPF shrimp,” Hendrik Jan Keus, Chief of Party, AIN Project in Bangladesh, told IPS. “If some farmers stock diseased shrimp seed, they may infect other ghers also.”

Nihar Ranjan Halder, a local service provider from WorldFish, told IPS, “The most common infection is WSSV and we had no remedy. However, since SPF was introduced, farmers no longer complain of any diseases. Introduction of SPF larvae would give thousands of farmers economic security.”

The biggest advantage of using SPF shrimp larvae is that they grow 20-25 percent faster than the conventional ones and above all, the SPF larvae are free from the 10 known deadly virus that are said to attack and destroy adult shrimp.

M K A Hatchery, a state-of-the-art shrimp hatchery in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, is the plant where pathogen-free larvae are produced. The hatchery, in operation since 2014, is the only one in the country. One to two million SPF post larvae are produced daily to feed the ghers in southwestern region.

Taslim Mahmood, chief consultant of M K A Hatchery, told IPS, “After months of trial and error we are now commercially producing and meeting the supply of SPF post larvae in the country. We have a capacity of producing well over 500 million such larvae every year.”

The blend of the two (SFP and ESF) technologies is expected to generate huge economic benefits as more farmers take an interest.

A total of 140,261 metric tons (MT) of farmed shrimp was produced in 2012- 2013, which was 137,175 MT in the previous year. The total value of the shrimp was 4.6 billion and 4.2 billion dollars, respectively. The shrimp industry benefits three to four million, mostly poor Bangladeshis while providing livelihoods directly to some 1.1 million people.

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Water Security Critical for World Fastest-Growing Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:36:42 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145277 Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By an IPS Correspondent
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Lack of water management and limited access to data risk hindering Myanmar’s economic growth, making water security a top priority of the new government.

Climate change and increased urbanisation, along with earthquakes, cyclones, periodic flooding and major drought, require an urgent infrastructural upgrade if the country is to undergo a successful integration into the global economy after five decades of economic isolation under military rule.

“Water resources are abundant in Myanmar. However, we need to manage it properly to get adequate and clean water,” said Yangon regional government chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, attending a high-level roundtable on water security organised by Stockholm-based facilitator Global Water Partnership on May 24 in Yangon.

According to IMF data, Myanmar is the fastest growing economy in the world, following an easing of sanctions in 2011, when the military handed power to a semi-civilian reformist government.

“Water security is a priority for the new government,” said Myanmar’s deputy minister of Transport and Communication U Kyaw Myo.

The challenges inherited by the now de facto leader of the country Aung San Suu Kyi, however, are enormous. An expected industrial development and urbanisation boom are only going to make more urgent the need for efficient water management solutions in one of the most challenging areas of South Asia.

Water in Myanmar is plentiful, but regional and seasonal differences are so striking that the country covers the whole range of threats posed by water insecurity: flooding in the delta’s numerous rivers, flash floods in the mountains and Dry Zone, droughts and deadly cyclones. Malnutrition and illnesses are the first consequences.

Safe drinking water is also limited. Groundwater sources are highly unexploited, but those available are often saline or contaminated, mainly by natural arsenic. Villages rely extensively on open air communal ponds to collect fresh water during the rainy season. These, however, dry out quickly during the summer.

“It is important to activate stakeholders and trigger a snowball effect at this stage,” said Global Water Partnership chair Alice Bouman. It is equally important, she said, to act only once all parties have been involved and listened to. “The emphasis has to go in particular to the so-called intrinsic indigenous knowledge: only locals have a long understanding of their environment and can help to avoid expensive mistakes.”

Action should focus on how to avert disasters in the first place, not just react afterwards – that was the message coming from the Japanese and the Dutch officials sharing their countries’ knowledge at the conference.

“Investments should happen in advance and go in the direction of disaster reduction, by building better for example, or consider climate change adaptation in time,” said Japan’s vice minister of Land, infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Koji Ikeuchi.

However, said Myanmar Water Think Tank secretary Khin Ni Ni Thein, money is currently not enough. “First we need to build trust between communities and the government. It becomes easier to access to international donors when there is this connection,” she said. “But it is also important that communities pay for the service, to guarantee the structure.”

Informative statistics but also topographical data that would support reforms are scarce in Myanmar. This is partly due to poor infrastructure and fragmented institutions, with up to six ministries in charge of water issues. But the limited access is primarily a consequence of the military still being in charge of three key ministers, including Defence, and reluctant to handover precise topographical information.

The high-level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals was held less than two months after the government was sworn in. Speakers from Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands stressed how new policies should refer to the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. Among these are no poverty, food security, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation and also gender equality.

“A lack of gender perspective is systemic to the region and many countries. We should always target an indicator, such as water and land laws, from a gender perspective. Some women, for example, cannot interact with the institutions without a male presence, [despite the fact that it’s the women in most societies who take care of the water],” said Kenza Robinson, from the UN’s department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Poverty is especially evident in rural areas. According to a 2014 census, 70 percent of the 51.5 million population live in the countryside. Life expectancy is one of the lowest of the entire ASEAN region and much of this is due to water and food security, impacting also on child and maternal mortality.

Over 40 percent of houses in rural areas are made of bamboo, with only 15 percent using electricity for lightening. A third of households in the country use water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet.

“Water access is essential to economic development and effective water management requires sound institutions,” concluded Jennifer Sara, global water practice director at the World Bank.

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Economic Interests Harming Global Health: WHO Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 03:50:53 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145270 Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Putting economic interests over public health is leading the world towards three slow-motion health disasters, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization’s warned the world’s health ministers on Monday.

Changes in the world’s climate, the failure of more and more antibiotic drugs and the increase in so-called lifestyle diseases caused by poor diet and exercise, are all growing health disasters related to the prioritisation of the economy over public health.

“These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them,” she said.

Chan’s warnings were part of her speech at the opening of the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva. Some 3500 delegates from the WHO’s 194 member states will participate in meetings at the assembly about some of the world’s most pressing health issues from May 23 to 27.

During her speech Chan also acknowledged the world’s many recent public health successes, however overall she argued that advances in health services and systems could not keep up with the global changes which mean health threats are increasingly traversing borders.

“We are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill." -- Margaret Chan, WHO.

“The burning of fossil fuels powers economies,” said Chan, contributing to changes in climate, which have led to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, as well as to air pollution which the WHO says kills millions of people every year.

“Highly processed foods that are cheap, convenient, and tasty gain a bigger market share than fresh fruits and vegetables,” she added, noting that the resulting non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease are now the “leading killers worldwide.”

However antibiotic resistance may be the problem that has the global health community most concerned, threatening to throw the world back into the dark ages of health care said Chan.

The over-prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics has led to the once wonder drug failing with increasing frequency.

Chan noted that infectious diseases are also becoming more volatile, and that the global health system was not as prepared as it should be for a true global health emergency.

She pointed to examples of recent surges in infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya.

She described the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue as “the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.”

She noted the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly had taken the medical community by surprise.

“The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.”

“Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.”

However she said that the re-emergence of Zika have decades of slumber in part reflected “changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet (that) have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit.”

Chan reserved some of her harshest criticisms for the world’s failure to prevent the current re-emergence of yellow fever in Africa, an outbreak the WHO is currently monitoring closely.

She described the conditions in urban environments fueling the current outbreak as a powder-keg.

“For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever,” she said.

Chan noted that beyond the failure to control mosquitos, the re-emergence of yellow fever also reflected a failure to adequately vaccinate against the disease.

“The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage,” she said, noting that there has been a safe low-cost yellow fever vaccine available since 1937.

Chan’s speech is not the only recent stand taken by the medical community showing increasing frustration with the current state of global politics.

Chan also alluded to the medical community’s increasing frustration with the deteriorating conditions of warfare which have seen hospitals bombed, in violation of humanitarian law.

“It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that, for all practical appearances, has lost its moral compass,” she said.

However the successes that Chan highlighted, proving the potential of the world’s health system to address global challenges. also showed that another reality is possible.

“We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44 percent drop in maternal mortality, and the 85 percent of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured,” said Chan.

She also highlighted the 60 percent decline in malaria mortality in Africa, showing that the fight against mosquito-borne diseases is having success, in at least one area.

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Natural Capital Investment Key to Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 17:49:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145267 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/feed/ 0 Prickly Pears Drive Local Development in Northern Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:51:45 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145260 Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina , May 23 2016 (IPS)

Family farmers in the northern Argentine province of Chaco are gaining a new appreciation of the common prickly pear cactus, which is now driving a new kind of local development.

Hundreds of jars of homemade jam are stacked in the civil society association “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” (smallholders of Corzuela united), ready to be sold.

Until recently, the small farmers taking part in this new local development initiative did not know that the prickly pear, also known as cactus pear, tuna or nopal, originated in Mexico, or that its scientific name was Opuntia ficus-indica.

But now this cactus that has always just been a normal part of their semi-arid landscape is bringing local subsistence farmers a new source of income.

“The women who took the course are now making a living from this,” Marta Maldonado, the secretary of the association, which was formally registered in 2011, told IPS. “They also have their vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs and goats.”

“The prickly pear is the most common plant around here. In the project we set up 20 prickly pear plantations,” she said.

Local farmers work one to four hectares in this settlement in the rural municipality of Corzuela in west-central Chaco, whose 10,000 inhabitants are spread around small settlements and villages.

The initiative, which has benefited 20 families, made up of 39 women, 35 men and four children, has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The SGP, which is active in 125 countries, is based on the sustainable development concept of “thinking globally, acting locally”, and seeks to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems.

The aim of these small grants, which in the case of the local association here amounted to 20,000 dollars, is to bolster food sovereignty while at the same time strengthening biodiversity.

The SGP has carried out 13 projects so far in Chaco, the poorest province in this South American country of 43 million people.

In the region where Corzuela is located, “there are periods of severe drought and fruit orchards require a lot of water. The prickly pear is a cactus that does not need water,” said Gabriela Faggi with the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).

The large-scale deforestation and clear-cutting of land began in 1990, when soy began to expand in this area, and many local crops were driven out.

“The prickly pear, which is actually originally from Mexico but was naturalised here throughout northern Argentina centuries ago, had started to disappear. So this project is also important in terms of rescuing this local fruit,” said Faggi.

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

This area depends on agriculture – cotton, soy, sunflowers, sorghum and maize – and timber, as well as livestock – cattle, hogs, and poultry.

However, it is now impossible for local smallholders to grow crops like cotton.

“In the past, a lot of cotton was grown, but not anymore,” the association’s treasurer, Mirtha Mores, told IPS. “It’s not planted now because of an outbreak of boll weevils (Anthonomus grandis), an insect that stunts growth of the plant, and we can’t afford to fight it, poor people like us who have just a little piece of land to farm.”

Before launching the project, the local branch of INTA trained the small farmers in agroecological techniques for growing cotton, and helped them put up fences to protect their crops from the animals.

They also taught them how to build and use a machine known as a “desjanadora” to remove the spines, or “janas”, from the prickly pear fruits, to make them easier to handle.

“It’s going well for us. Last year we even sold 1,500 jars of prickly pear fruit jam to the Education Ministry,” for use in school lunchrooms, Maldonado said proudly.

The association, whose work is mainly done by women, also sells its products at local and provincial markets. And although prickly pear fruit is their star product, when it is not in season, they also make jam and other preserves using papaya or pumpkin.

“It has improved our incomes and now we have the possibility to sell our merchandise and to be able to buy the things that are really needed to help our kids who are studying,” Mores said.

The project, which began in 2013, also trained them to use the leaves as a supplementary feed for livestock, especially in the winter when there is less fodder and many animals actually die of hunger.

“We make use of everything. We use the leaves to feed the animals – cows, horses, goats, pigs. The fruit is used to make jam, removing the seeds,” said Mores.

The nutrition and health of the families have improved because of the properties of the fruit and of the plant, said Maldonado and Mores. And now they need less fodder for their animals, fewer of which die in the winter due to a lack of forage.

At the same time, the families belonging to the association were also trained to make sustainable use of firewood from native trees, and learned to make special stoves that enable them to cook and heat their modest homes.

In addition, because women assumed an active, leading role in the activities of the association, the project got them out of their homes and away from their routine grind of household tasks and gave them new protagonism in the community.

“Living in the countryside, women used to be more isolated, they didn’t get out, but now they have a place to come here. They get together from Monday through Friday, chat and are more involved in decision-making. In the association they can express their opinions,” said Maldonado.

“When women get together, what don’t we talk about?” Mores joked.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bangladesh’s Urban Slums Swell with Climate Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 11:34:55 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145249 Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Abdul Aziz, 35, arrived in the capital Dhaka in 2006 after losing all his belongings to the mighty Meghna River. Once, he and his family had lived happily in the village of Dokkhin Rajapur in Bhola, a coastal district of Bangladesh. Aziz had a beautiful house and large amount of arable land.

But riverbank erosion snatched away his household and all his belongings. Now he lives with his four-member family, including his 70-year-old mother, in the capital’s Malibagh slum.

“Once we had huge arable land as my father and grandfather were landlords. I had grown up with wealth, but now I am destitute,” Aziz told IPS.

Fallen on sudden poverty, he roamed door-to-door seeking work, but failed to find a decent job. “I sold nuts on the city streets for five years, and then I started rickshaw pulling. But our lives remain the same. We are still in a bad plight,” he said.

Aziz is too poor to rent a decent home, so he and his family have been forced to take shelter in a slum, where the housing is precarious and residents have very little access to amenities like sanitation and clean water.

“My daughter is growing up, but there is no money to enroll her school,” Aziz added.

About the harsh erosion of the Meghna River, he said the family of his father-in-law is still living in Bhola, but he fears that they too will be displaced this monsoon season as the erosion worsens.

Like Aziz, people arrive each day in the major cities, including Dhaka and Chittagong, seeking refuge in slums and low-cost housing areas, creating various environmental and social problems.

Bachho Miah, 50, is another victim of riverbank erosion. He and his family also live in Malibagh slum.

“We were displaced many times to riverbank erosion. We had a house in Noakhali. But the house went under river water five years ago. Then we built another house at Dokkhin Rajapur of Bhola. The Meghna also claimed that house,” he said.

According to scientists and officials, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and rising sea levels. Its impacts are already visible in the recurrent extreme climate events that have contributed to the displacement of millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Nov. 15, 2007, triggering a five-metre tidal surge in the coastal belt of Bangladesh, killed about 3,500 people and displaced two million. In May 2007, another devastating cyclone – Aila – hit the coast, killing 193 people and leaving a million homeless.

Migration and displacement is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. But climate change-induced extreme events like erosion, and cyclone and storm surges have forced a huge number of people to migrate from their homesteads to other places in recent years. The affected people generally migrate to nearby towns and cities, and many never return.

According to a 2013 joint study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Dhaka University and the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex, riverbank erosion displaces 50,000 to 200,000 people in Bangladesh each year.

Eminent climate change expert Dr Atiq Rahman predicted that about 20 million people will be displaced in the country, inundating a huge amount of coastal land, if the global sea level rises by one metre.

The fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a similar prediction, saying that sea levels could rise from 26cm – 98cm by 2100, depending on global emissions levels. If this occurs, Bangladesh will lose 17.5 percent of its total landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, and about 31.5 million people will be displaced.

“The climate-induced migrants will rush to major cities like Dhaka in the coming days, increasing the rate of urban poverty since they will not get work in small townships,” urban planner Dr. Md. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

Dr. Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the influx of internal climate migrants will present a major challenge to the government’s plan to build climate-resilient cities.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country. Floods also hits the country each year. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin is one of the most flood-prone areas in the world. Official data shows that the devastating 1998 flood alone caused 1,100 deaths and rendered 30 million people homeless.

Disaster Management Secretary Md Shah Kamal said Bangladesh will see even greater numbers of climate change-induced migrants in the future.

“About 3.5 lakh [350,000] people migrated internally after Aila hit. Many climate victims are going to abroad. So the government is considering the issue seriously. It has planned to rehabilitate them within the areas where they wish to live,” he said.

Noting that the Bangladeshi displaced are innocent victims of global climate change, Kamal stressed the need to raise the issue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 and to seek compensation.

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Species Loss, the Migration Hiding in Plain Sighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 09:34:48 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145248 The author is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification]]>

The author is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

By Monique Barbut
BONN, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Two months ago, I was in Agadez, a city in the middle of the famous Ténéré Desert of Niger. Agadez has become a major transit point on a hazardous journey for the hundreds and thousands of desperate people from all over West Africa trying to make it to the Mediterranean coast every year.

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

The loss of productive land and unpredictability of the rainy seasons has left many Sahelians with far too few options. Their livelihoods are under threat. When communities that are culturally nomadic and that practice seasonal migration as a coping mechanism resort to permanent migration and abandon the land, it signals an unfolding crisis.

Migration has become the ‘hot potato’ issue of our times. Alongside it, hidden in plain sight, is another threat that closely reflects this same abandonment dynamic. Plants and animals are also moving from their native homes to other parts of the world. A recent example is the mosquito carrying the deadly Zika virus. In a relatively short time, it has migrated from South to North America, and is now threatening to reach Europe.

The transformation occurring in ecosystems as a result of climate change, as plant and animal species selectively find new habitats, is difficult to fathom or explain to the public. It will be even harder to contain it.

The rate at which plant and animal life is migrating signals deepening trouble in the systems that support life on Earth – land, water, plants, climate, etc. Species migration, like human migration, has an impact in the new locations, but also in their places of origin.

An assessment in 2012 of the impacts of the ragweed species in Europe, for instance, shows it poses a risk to human health and agriculture. In future, more people may suffer allergies and maize, potato and sugar beet farmers, among many others, may be fighting a new weed.

On the other end is the predicted loss of food crops such as maize, beans, bananas and finger millet from much of sub-Saharan Africa. The loss of these crops, which are widely consumed in the region, could lead to new types of hunger crises.

Human migration is guided by reason and choice, and can be managed, even reversed, with the right policy incentives. For instance, if land is restored people may return. However, areas that are abandoned by humans are depopulated and eventually collapse and die for lack of investment.

By contrast, the migration of biodiversity is irreversible beyond a certain threshold. It is almost impossible to recover plants and animals that have become extinct or have migrated due to ecosystem change. Areas that are abandoned by species eventually die for lack of ecosystem services.

The forces driving species migration are strikingly similar to those driving people in West Africa’s Sahel region towards Agadez.

According to the local people, the forces driving their migration North are: land that is no longer productive; droughts and flash floods that are stripping much of the fertile top soil from the land; and population pressure in some of the most fertile areas of West Africa.

Climate change impacts, such as droughts that transform the local vegetation, the emergence of dust in new areas and migration of plants that are swept by floods, are some of the forces behind species migration and the disappearance of native species.

The damage already done to the climate system makes the transformation of ecosystems almost inevitable. Restoring degraded lands is the last hope we have to keep ecosystems functioning at the level they are in today. That window of opportunity, however, is closing fast.

That is why, in observing the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May, we must celebrate the countries leading the way in mainstreaming the biodiversity that has sustained us and our livelihoods for millennia.

Let’s celebrate and recognize the 90 countries that are setting national targets to restore degraded lands in order to ensure the fertile lands in use by 2030 stays stable and, in turn, sustains species and ecosystems.

Many of these are the poorest countries and communities of the world. But they have chosen to share their labor, knowledge and limited finances to maintain the integrity of an Earth that we all share.

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Myanmar Seeks to Break Vicious Circle of Flood and Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 15:56:49 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145228 Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
HTITA, May 22 2016 (IPS)

It has been two weeks now since the village of Htita, with its few bamboo houses hemmed in by parched, cracked earth and dried-out ponds, has enjoyed the novelty of its first ever water well.

Young housewife Lei Lei Win walks to the noise of breaking soil to fill two yellow containers previously used for cooking oil. With the weight of the 20-litre ‘buckets’ balanced on a pole on her shoulder, it now takes her only one minute to provide her family with the water that she will need to get washed, cook, and also drink. She usually makes two trips a day.

“I save a lot of time,” says Lei Lei, dressed in a traditional longyi skirt. “Before I had to walk much more to fetch water.”

The nearly 200-metre-deep well is not the result of government planning, but the combined 3,000-dollar donation by a Yangon businessman who hails from the village and a travel agency named Khiri, run by a Dutchman, which donates part of its income to build wells in the driest parts of the country.

Situated in the internal region of Bago, Htita is only a two-hour drive from Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. Even closer is the village of Kawa. But even if residents are enjoying better living conditions, only a few here can afford to pay some 30 dollars a month – a considerable amount of money in Myanmar – to pump water from a nearby underground water source directly to the house tank.

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

According to a 2014 census, a third of households in the country of 51.5 million people uses water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet. Only an average 32.4 percent of households use electricity for lighting.

The same census found that life expectancy in Myanmar is among the lowest in the ASEAN region. Much of this is due to lack of water and food security, with water scarcity and excess of rainfall playing an equal role.

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

“Water is abundant and plentiful in Myanmar, but there is little infrastructure and electricity, so the economics of accessing water are problematic. This is why the shortages continue year after year,” says Andrew Kirkwood, fund manager of the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund that focuses on the rural poor in Myanmar.

About 90 percent of rain in Myanmar falls during the rainy season, from June to October. But geographical differences are enormous: rainfall ranges from 750 mm per year in the most arid region of the country to 1,500 mm in the eastern and western mountains and 4,000 to 5,000 mm in the coastal regions.

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Shortages in the dry zone have been more acute this year because the scant rains of the year before resulted in limited water-storage, according to LIFT. On top of this, El Nino’s higher temperatures during the following 2016 hot season triggered higher evaporation rates.

However, in other areas of the country, failure in ensuring water security has historically been caused by the opposite: extreme rain and disastrous floods.

With the deadly 2008 cyclone Nargis still engraved in the country’s memory, during the rainy season of 2015 the country had to face another emergency. Vast areas, from states in the North-West to the Delta region, were hit by severe and prolonged rains. With no proper water control measures in place, the outcome of an otherwise-manageable natural phenomenon was disastrous: dozens of deaths and almost two million acres of rice fields either destroyed or damaged, according to UN’s humanitarian disaster agency OCHA.

In both cases – drought and floods – failures in managing water security bring precarious hygiene conditions and illnesses, while the effects on agriculture reflect in high malnutrition rates. In the Dry Zone, 18 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, according to a 2013 LIFT survey, while a staggering quarter of children under the age of five are underweight.

What to do

The correct administration of water resources is the root of the problem in Myanmar, according to NGOs and institutional actors. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is therefore faced with the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the ongoing economic growth.

“Sixty percent of irrigation in South East Asia comes from groundwater,” says LIFT’s fund manager Kirkwood. “But it’s only six percent in Myanmar. Our knowledge of how much groundwater there is and where this groundwater is, is not good at all.”

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Even against the odds of scant resources, farmers in the Dry Zone produce most of Myanmar’s sesame and pulses, making it one of the largest exporters in the world. The economic impact of better exploitation of resources is evident. However, says Kirkwood, investments have been so far misplaced – forcing farmers, for example, into rice cultivation – and policies inefficient, such as not collecting sufficient fees for water.

Terre des Hommes, an NGO, has successfully introduced into the Dry Zone a hydroponic farming system developed by the University of Bologna. The system requires 80-90 percent less water than soil-based farming, while recycling fluids enriched with fertilizers. It allows landless farmers in particular access to fresher and cheaper food.

“The project has involved 45 villages in townships across Mandalay and Magway,” says project manager Enrico Marulli. The latter region has the highest under-five mortality rate in the entire country, more than twice the rate of its biggest city, Yangon, reflecting the urgent need for life-improvement solutions.

But the long-term sustainability of these project finds its limits in the overall restructuring that the country has to endure. With a new greenhouse costing between 70 and 80 dollars, without external donors’ contribution only access to credit can support vital technological improvements.

However, farmers’ financial inclusion is virtually inexistent. In contrast to other developing countries, microfinance in Myanmar goes mainly to the agricultural sector, says LIFT, but only bigger financial institutions have the capacity to sustain longer-term, higher investments.

Al of these issues will come to the fore on May 24, when the Global Water Partnership High Level Roundtable on Water Security and the SDGs will be held in Yangon. The meeting aims to accelerate gains made by ongoing projects related to water and sanitation, under the guidance of the government of Myanmar and the World Bank.

Meanwhile, in the village of Htita, villagers continue to enjoy the revolution of the new well and fill their yellow containers.

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When Emergencies Last for Decadeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-emergencies-last-for-decades http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 21:34:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145217 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-emergencies-last-for-decades/feed/ 0 A Precarious Fate for Climate Migrants in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-precarious-fate-for-climate-migrants-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-precarious-fate-for-climate-migrants-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-precarious-fate-for-climate-migrants-in-india/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 12:18:15 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145182 Many Bangladeshi migrants and those from coastal Indian towns take up menial jobs in the construction industry and live in slums. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Many Bangladeshi migrants and those from coastal Indian towns take up menial jobs in the construction industry and live in slums. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

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

After the sea swallowed up her home and family in the Bangladeshi coastal district of Bhola along the Bay of Bengal, farmer Sanjeela Sheikh was heartbroken. Stripped of all her belongings, her fields swamped and her loved ones dead, she contemplated suicide.

But good sense prevailed. The frail 36-year-old decided to till her neighbours’ fields in exchange for food. At the same time, she started saving and planning to migrate to India for better prospects like some of her neighbours. Finally, Sheikh packed her belongings and boarded a rickety bus to India’s eastern state of West Bengal. From there, a ticketless train journey brought her to New Delhi where she now lives and works.

“I’ve accepted my fate,” Sheikh told IPS, now employed as a domestic help and living with an Indian family. “There’s no future for me in Bangladesh.”

Along with India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change in South Asia. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acknowledged in a speech last year that roughly 30 million Bangladeshis will risk becoming climate migrants by 2050."We're petrified of the authorities probing our Bangladeshi antecedents. We can be packed off without any questions. But that's a risk we're willing to take."

The reasons for migration are familiar — climate change, loss of livelihood due to disasters like cyclones, drought, ingress of the sea, and lack of fresh water for agriculture. In its report Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has highlighted grave causes and ramifications of climate-induced displacement. As per ADB, roughly 37 million people from India, 22 million from China and 21 million from Indonesia will be at risk from sea levels rising by 2050.

Changing weather patterns will also impact agriculture, hampering millions of livelihoods around the world, especially of poor and marginalised populations, add experts. Cyclone Phailin, which lashed the coastal Indian state of Orissa in October 2013, has triggered large-scale migration of fishing communities. Ditto the floods of 2013 in the Himalayas, which have wrecked millions of livelihoods forcing people to move elsewhere.

However, among the most daunting effects of climate change is human displacement as it involves migration, protection of vulnerable people and liability for climate change damage. The U.S. Department of Defence has rightly called climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.”

These words ring all the more true when viewed against the ominous backdrop of the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. These catastrophes are exposing millions of vulnerable people like Sanjeela to largescale displacement and forced migration. According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, at least 19.3 million people worldwide were forced out of their homes by natural disasters in 2015 – 90 percent of which were related to weather-related events.

Unfortunately, even as the numbers of these “climate refugees” crossing international borders in search of a safe haven has seen a dramatic upward spiral, the issue of legal rights or guaranteed help remains elusive for them.

“Despite being forced to leave their home countries, these migrants cannot apply for refugee status. They are bereft of legal protection under the U.N. High Convention for Refugees and can be deported at any time without question,” a senior official at the Ministry of External Affairs told IPS.

Zahida Begum, 45, is one such refugee who lives in constant fear of being deported. The poor farmer migrated from Bangladesh in 2014 when her fields were wrecked by floods. She now lives in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh with her three young children and husband. “When we’d just shifted,” Begum told IPS, “we used to spend entire days hiding. Now, we just pretend we’re from the Indian state of West Bengal as we speak the same language and our cultures are also quite similar. However, we’re petrified of the authorities probing our Bangladeshi antecedents. We can be packed off without any questions. But that’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

Researchers in Assam in India and in Bangladesh have estimated that around a million people have been rendered homeless due to erosion in the Brahmaputra river basin over the last three decades. Particularly susceptible to climate change are the Sundarbans, a low-lying delta region in the Bay of Bengal where some 13 million impoverished Indians and Bangladeshis live.

The 200-odd islands here constitute the world’s largest mangrove estuary shared by India and Bangladesh which has experienced loss of forests, lands and habitats due to rising sea levels in recent years.

Climatologists say seas are rising in the Sundarbans more than twice as fast as the global average due to which much of the delta could be submerged in as early as two decades. “That catastrophe,” says Dr. Abhinav Mohapatra of the Indian Meteorological Department, “could trigger a massive exodus of climate refugees creating enormous challenges for India and Bangladesh.”

Sahana Bose of the Central University of Assam states in her essay “Climate resilience and the climate refugees” that the migrant tribes in the Indian Sunderbans, working as agricultural labourers or cultivating small farms, locally known as ‘Adivasis’ are the worst type of climate refugees.

“Their very frequent displacement from one island to another within a span of five years has created a wide range of ecological and socio-economic problems leading to humanitarian crisis. These climate refugees are also the world’s most poor people living on less than 10 US dollar per month,” writes Bose.

A Greenpeace study suggests that India will face major out-migrations from coastal regions. According to these estimates, around 120 million people will be rendered homeless by 2100 in Bangladesh and India.

“Everyone knows that climate change is displacing people but no government is willing to acknowledge this officially for fear of having to recognise these people as refugees and be held responsible for their welfare,” explains Dr. Jamuna Sheshadri, an associate professor of sociology at Delhi University.

The problem is aggravated, says Sheshadri, with the scientific community still struggling to define “climate refugees” even though displacement and migration due to climate are a global phenomenon.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels in India are expected to rise at the rate of 2.4 mm a year; in 2050, the total increase will be 38 cm, displacing tens of thousands of people. For nearly a quarter of India’s population living along the coast, global warming is a scary reality.

The issue of climate refugees is also creating simmering tensions at the local level. In West Bengal, the massive and continuous influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has become a fraught political issue. Waves of Bangladeshi migrants have settled in the state and the Northeast over the decades. The resultant pressures on land and economic resources is triggering clashes between local residents and the migrant Bangladeshis.

The migrants’ influx is also creating social marginalisation among local Indian populations apart from disguised unemployment, scarcity of land for agriculture and food insecurity. In Delhi, the city slums are experiencing a severe strain on civic services and urban infrastructure including paucity of potable water. Meanwhile, unscrupulous politicians are busy milking both the constituencies — of migrants and locals — to fatten their vote banks.

Where does the solution lie to the complex problem of climate refugees lie? The Norwegian Refugee Council, a prominent humanitarian organisation in Norway that works on global refugee issues, had suggested setting up of an international environmental migration fund bankrolled by industrialised nations. The idea of a UN pact to compensate victims of climate change is another suggestion, and the issue will also be taken up at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24.

But, as some experts have highlighted, the issue first needs to be mainstreamed. A solid plan can then be devised and incorporated in national policies of the affected nations for a lasting and sustainable solution.

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Kenya’s Young Inventors Shake Up Old Technologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 18:55:49 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145167 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/feed/ 1 A Refugee Crisis with No End in Sighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-refugee-crisis-with-no-end-in-sight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-refugee-crisis-with-no-end-in-sight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-refugee-crisis-with-no-end-in-sight/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145164 Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA, Palestine, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“We don’t want charity, we want a long-term solution.”

That’s what a group of Palestinian refugees who fled the war in Syria and found safety in Gaza told IPS last November.

Today, their sentiment continues to be echoed in Syria and in camps and urban centres hosting refugees across the region.

New challenges

As the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War gives no sign of relenting, the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit will offer a much needed space to discuss what a long-term solution for people fleeing protracted conflict might look like and how actors and stakeholders might go about achieving it.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Middle East has slowly overtaken Sub-Saharan Africa to become the epicentre of this crisis and of the migratory movements of millions of people in search of a safe haven."We in America spend more money buying Coca-Cola than all the money going into Syria." -- Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator at USAID

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that today some 60 million people are displaced worldwide, that is 1 person in every 122. What experts in the field agree upon, is that traditional responses to refugees’ needs are falling far short of the mark.

At a conference on this issue that was held last June at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington DC, humanitarian and political actors agreed that it is no longer enough for the UN to set up a camp at the nearest border, send in the aid professionals and assume that rich countries will foot the bill.

“That model has been shattered in recent years,” wrote scholar Greg Myre. And new patterns are emerging that demand new approaches.

Protracted conflict; the ability and willingness of refugees to reach far away places; and lack of funding for the aid industry, have been widely identified as the new elements causing a need to re-think traditional humanitarian approaches that are failing.

Protracted conflict

If in the recent past economic opportunities played a major role in people’s movements, today by far the major pushing factor is war.

In the Middle East alone, in 2015 some 15 million people had been displaced by conflict. As of May 16, 2016, the numbers have continued to rise.

Close to five million people have escaped Syria alone, while 6.6 million are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). According to OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Yemen, IDPs number 2.76 Million, while in Iraq it is 3.4 million.

These numbers, of course, add to the existing five million Palestinians registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) since 1948 and 1967; to the Lebanese who had fled civil war in the 1980s; and to the Iraqi refugees who had fled the 1991 and 2003 wars. Many of them were living in Syria when the war broke out, making them refugees for a second or third time.

Refugees in the region compete for limited resources, place tremendous stress on the often wavering infrastructure recovering from prolonged conflict, and are perceived as a potential security threat by countries striving to maintain a precarious peace, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Willingness to travel to faraway countries

As the region’s capacity to absorb refugees is stretched, the ability and willingness of refugees to reach faraway corners of the world is another important new element that sets this crisis apart from previous ones.

Especially in the case of Syria, the length of the conflict and the vacuum left by the lack of political solution in the foreseeable future push refugees to take the risk of settling somewhere else for the long term.

Poor living conditions in camps and limited or no educational and economic opportunities in hosting urban centres in the region are decisive factors in the move.

The people with the means to undertake a trip to Europe, the USA or Australia are often professionals whose expertise will be necessary, but unavailable, once the rebuilding kicks off. Statistics show that the further a refugee travels, the more unlikely he or she is to return. UNHCR estimates that the average length of displacement has now reached 17 years.

Lack of funding

Last, but certainly not least, this crisis is characterised by an endemic lack of funds that leaves the aid industry and UN agencies unable to provide for the basic needs of millions. As of May 2016, UNHCR is 3.5 billion dollars short on its 4.5 billion appeal for the Syria Regional Refugee Response alone.

It is often reported that it costs 10 times less to care for a refugee in the region of origin than it does in the West, and yet donor countries are slow to raise the necessary funds to improve the lives of millions escaping wars.

In 2015, Official Development Assistance (ODA) by OECD countries reached a record high, totalling 131.6 billion dollars. And yet payments still only average 0.30 percent of Gross National Income (GNI), well below the UN recommended minimum of 0.70 percent.

The funding crisis and the inability to successfully meet, let alone end, the needs of refugees has pushed the aid community to some soul searching that in the past decade has led to calls for reform, especially at the UN level, to streamline work, decrease overheads, coordinate more efficiently with local humanitarian organizations and seek alternative donors to governments.

On the subject of alternative funding sources, Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator at USAID, tellingly explained to the audience at the MEI conference last June that “we in America spend more money buying Coca-Cola than all the money going into Syria.”

Aside from highlighting that the private sector should play its part in times of crisis, the statement can be read as a comment of the need to reassess our priorities and values as a society.

The crisis is in the Middle East, not in the West

Despite clear statistics and readily available numbers on the Middle East refugee crisis, this emergency is still too often talked about in Western-centric terms and inevitably looked at as a ‘problem’, never an opportunity.

Deaths in the Mediterranean do not happen in a vacuum, they are the direct result of the shortcomings of the international community to meet the needs of refugees worldwide, to deflate conflicts and to create lasting opportunities for improvement.

The immense strain placed on the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian hosting populations, which have taken in 2.7, 1.05 and 0.70 million Syrians respectively, further highlights the West’s inability to add a sensible perspective to the small numbers of refugees reaching its shores.

As the healthcare and education systems of countries ravaged by war head down the path of de-development, it is imperative that lasting solutions are implemented before the situation spirals further into chaos, experts say.

The humanitarian summit could be the forum where the first steps on this road are taken.

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Making Bangladesh Ready for Renewableshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 16:41:46 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145159 By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
May 17 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

All his life, farmer Nasiruddin saw his poverty ridden village in complete darkness after dusk, with electricity being a distant dream. That changed last year when he installed a solar lantern system.

Photo: BGR

Photo: BGR

“Life used to stop here after sundown,” he says, “Kerosene lamps were expensive. My children studied in candle light with a lot of difficulty, and we couldn’t do any work properly at night. But now solar power has changed all that.”

Nasiruddin’s case is emblematic of that of millions of Bangladeshis living in underdeveloped areas of the country, such as the enclave in which he lives, most of which don’t have electric grids. The energy starved nation faces significant challenges to achieve its vision of universal electricity access by 2021 by relying only on grid power development. The dispersed nature of rural settlements and the numerous rivers that crisscross Bangladesh make grid electrification difficult and expensive. It is also environmentally unsustainable, as it is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, which exacerbate global warming.

In recognition of these challenges, the government promoted the development of off-grid renewable energy schemes as one of the viable near-to-medium-term options to provide electricity for millions of households in the remote areas of the country. And development organisations have got onboard. Some organisations, including the UNDP through their Sustainable Renewable Energy for Power Generation (SREPGEN) project of which Nasiruddin is a beneficiary, provide solar lanterns to those who do not have grid connection in rural areas and cannot afford solar home system, with a portion of grant via partner organisations. The aim here is to reduce the annual growth rate of GHG emissions from fossil fuel-fired power generation by exploiting Bangladesh’s renewable energy resources for electricity generation.

Measures to promote renewable energy investment can be expected to improve energy security, generate employment and serve as a cost-effective GHG emission reduction option. In recognition of this fact, the government has set up the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) to develop policies for renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes, and to mobilise resources for such programmes in Bangladesh. But the renewables landscape is still riddled with challenges. Organisations assert that solar energy is costly, and the components being imported have high duties. Currently the high tariffs are driving up the cost of equipment such as solar lanterns, rendering them unaffordable for many without external financial assistance. To counter this challenge, however, some organisations, like the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), are developing their capacity to lobby for renewable energy investment incentives such as duty free import of renewables’ equipment and tax holidays for investors.

While solar data is considered to be adequate for current purposes, datasets for wind and biomass resources do not have sufficient geographic coverage or volume to induce investment decisions. The available data sets are also not compiled in user-friendly formats, and there is no central repository of renewable energy information. Moreover, access to these data is difficult, as it requires contacts with various government departments, discouraging potential renewable energy developers and investors.

Moreover, as one of the most densely populated nations of the world, land is a scarce commodity in Bangladesh. Disputes exist regarding land ownership in different parts of the country, which makes installation and scaling up of solar photovoltaic difficult, according to Saiful Alam, Director of Dhaka University’s Energy Institute. However, he thinks an easy solution exists for this problem – rooftops. “We may have land scarcity but we have plenty of rooftops, enough to produce 3000 megawatts, and we are trying to convince the government to do so,” he says.

After the historic Paris climate agreement last year, the world received a clear signal – the fossil fuel era is over. An energy transition is needed for all nations, which leaves coal, gas and oil in the ground and leads to a 100 percent renewable energy powered world. Developing nations such as Bangladesh that have escalating energy needs should lay the framework now for sustainable development.

With that aim, civil society organisations and climate conscious people are mobilising around the world as part of the Break Free campaign, urging governments and corporations to phase out fossil fuels and phase in renewable energy. In line with the campaign, SUPRO – a national network of grassroots NGOs in Bangladesh – formed a human chain on May 14 around the National Press Club to bring to the attention of media and people on the ground the need to protect climate policying from big polluters.

Pressure is mounting on all governments, including those of developing nations such as Bangladesh, to develop a credible plan to end their dependence on fossil fuels and decarbonise their economies in favour of renewable energy, in line with their COP 21 pledges. And this necessitates effective government action and international assistance to overcome the obstacles in the path to proliferation of renewable energy.

The writer is a development professional working at UNDP Bangladesh on Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Management issues.

his story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Is Demise of Small Farmers Imminent?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 10:05:37 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145148 Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.]]>

Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

By Raghav Gaiha and Vani S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI AND PHILADELPHIA, May 17 2016 (IPS)

Imminent demise of small farmers is predicted as they are not competitive in a context of transforming agrifood markets. Most important is the transformation of the “post–farm gate” segments of the supply chains.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Agrifood markets have been transforming because of growing affluence, urbanisation and large inflows of FDI induced by liberalised investment policies. A few salient features include replacement of local and fragmented food value chains by geographically much longer chains. Traditional village traders/brokers/processors have declined while small and medium firms have proliferated with eventual domination of large domestic firms and multinationals (Reardon and Timmer, 2014). For example, rice mills have declined rapidly. Instead small but especially medium and large scale mills have emerged located in towns. A comprehensive Asian Development Bank report on Food Security in Asia (2013) draws attention to some contrasts between Bangladesh and India in rice supply chains. The role of the village trader, for example, has shrunk, controlling only 7% of farms and sales in Bangladesh, and 38% of farms and 18% of sales in India.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

A large share of food undergoes processing. Grain milled rice is made into bread or polished rice, for example. The rapid growth of food processing is driven by women’s participation in the labour force and dietary shifts, promoted in part by modern retail. The retail segment has transformed rapidly in the last decade. Many governments had public sector cum cooperative retail ventures (e.g. India, Vietnam, and China). These were dismantled with structural adjustment and liberalisation. The supermarket “revolution” has been a catalyst. Supermarket chains seldom buy fresh produce directly from farmers. Instead, they tend to buy from wholesale markets or from specialised wholesalers who in turn buy from preferred suppliers.

In the downstream, dietary changes have been significant. Domestic consumption of high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables rose by 200 % during 1980-2005, while consumption of cereals stagnated. High value food exports –including fruits and vegetables, meat and milk products, and fish and seafood products-from developing countries increased by more than 300% during 1980-2005, and now constitute more than 40 % of total developing country agrifood exports (World Bank, 2008). The growth in high value agricultural exports has been much faster than the growth in traditional exports such as coffee, cocoa and tea, which decreased in overall importance.

The shift towards high value agriculture and concomitant “restructuring” or modernisation of supply chains are associated with (i) increasing number and stringency of food standards for quality and safety; (ii) consolidation of supply chains; and (iii) a shift from spot market transactions in traditional wholesale markets to increasing levels of vertical coordination of supply chains.

Overall, the supply chain is lengthening geographically and “shortening” inter-mediationally (or, “simply fewer hands in the chain”). The former implies that food markets are integrating across zones/states in a country; it also implies “de-seasonalisation” of the market. A case in point is the potato market in India, China and Bangladesh.

Although there is considerable pessimism about small farmers’ ability to participate in high value food chains because of their small scale of production, failure to comply with stringent quality standards and unreliability of supply, recent evidence is mixed. The main arguments that transaction costs and investment constraints are a serious consideration in these chains and that processing and retailing companies express a strong preference for working with relatively fewer, larger and modern suppliers are not rejected. But the evidence also shows that many more small farmers participate in such chains than predicted by these arguments.

In India, small farmers play an important role as suppliers in growing modern supply chains. In China, production in the rapidly growing vegetable chains (and in several other commodities) is exclusively based on small farmer production. Poland, Romania and CIS do not show any evidence of “exclusion” of small farmers. Studies of high value export vegetable chains in Africa find in some cases that production is fully organised in small farms or fully in large farms or mixed in small and large farms (Swinnen et al. 2010).

Small farmers are indeed excluded in some supply chains and in some countries, but this is far from a general pattern, and, in fact, small and poor farms are included in supply chains to a much greater extent than expected on arguments based on transaction costs and capacity constraints.

Several reasons underlie this view. (i) Buyers often have no choice where small farmers supply a large share of supply and occupy a large fraction of land. In parts of East Asia and China, with a high population pressure on land, sourcing is often from small farms. (ii) It is often not the case that companies contract with large farms simply because of lower transaction costs. In fact, many companies prefer not to depend on large farms because contract enforcement is harder. (iii) In some cases, small farms have substantive cost advantages. This is particularly the case in labour-intensive, high maintenance, production activities with relatively small economies of scale, such as dairy or vegetable production.

Empirical evidence reveals that small farmers engage in high value contract production because of guaranteed sales and prices, and access to inputs, and not so much for direct profit and income benefits.

Vertical coordination is widespread in high value chains, often as an institutional response to problems of local market imperfection. But vertical coordination varies from integrated (large) farms managed by food companies to extensive contracting arrangements with small farmers. Contract farming improves access to credit, technology and quality inputs for poor, small farmers hitherto faced with binding liquidity and information constraints. But reneging of buy back arrangements on specious poor quality standards is frequent due to weak enforcement mechanisms (a case in point is India).

Evidence on impact of these value chains on small farmers is patchy and inconclusive.

Available evidence suggests that where the smallholders are only partially participating as suppliers, the poorest rural households may benefit from inclusion through the labour market than small farmer participation. In other words, whether small farmers are included in these chains or not, is unlikely to be a good indicator of the welfare effects. On the other hand, the shift of suppliers from traditional to modern markets causes price effects. These price effects and their welfare implications depend on scale economies in modern versus traditional production systems, trade, relative demand and production elasticities (or how responsive is production to price changes), and on the factor intensity of high value commodities. In poor countries, where modern supply chains increase demand for labour- intensive commodities, the spill over effects are likely to be positive.

The transaction costs faced by private actors when transacting with a large number of farmers could be reduced by investing in intermediary institutions (e.g. producer groups). Intermediary institutions reduce the number of transactions and the cost of exchange between farmers and processors or input suppliers. Whether small coverage of producer groups undermines this argument is beside the point as what is emphasised is that the potential of such groups is considerable. Besides, as argued by a World Bank report, Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2016, clear and accessible laws foster a business environment that benefits all market players-especially farmers including vulnerable female farmers and smallholders, consumers and large investors.

In conclusion, the imminent demise of small farmers is exaggerated, if not mistaken altogether.

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