Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Internal Ruling Party Wrangles Stall Development in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:32 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137970 Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

With the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front party in Zimbabwe seized with internal conflicts, attention to key development areas here have shifted despite the imminent end of December 2015 deadline for global attainment of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDGs targeted to be achieved by 31 December 2015 form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions.“Every development area is at a standstill here as ZANU-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline” – Agrippa Chiwawa, an independent development expert

But, caught up in the succession fight among ruling party politicians as the country’s 90-year old President Robert Mugabe – who has ruled this Southern African nation for the last 34 years – reportedly  battles ill health ahead of the party’s elective congress in December, development experts say the Zimbabwean government has apparently shifted attention from development to party politics.

“Every development area is at a standstill here as Zanu-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline,” independent development expert Agrippa Chiwawa told IPS.

The battle to succeed Mugabe pits Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is currently receiving a battering from the former’s faction which has won sympathy from the country’s first family, with First Lady Grace Mugabe venomously calling for the immediate resignation of Mujuru before the ZANU-PF congress.

Chiwawa told IPS that despite the government having contained recent strikes by medical doctors here through appeasing them by reviewing their salaries, the public health sector is in a state of decay amid acute shortages of treatment drugs.

Elmond Bandauko, an independent political analyst, agrees with Chiwawa. “Internal fights within the ZANU-PF party are stumbling blocks to national, social and economic prosperity; the ZANU-PF government is concentrating on its party succession battles as the economy is on its knees and there is no projected solution to the economic woes the country faces at the moment,” he told IPS.

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Policy makers from the ZANU-PF government, who are supposed to be holding debates and parliamentary sessions and special meetings on how to move the country forward, are wasting time on political tiffs that do not save the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans,” Bandauko added.

Even the country’s education system has not been spared by the ruling party political milieu, according to educationists here.

“Nobody is talking about revamping the education system here as government officials responsible are busy consolidating their powers in the ruling party while national examinations are fast losing credibility amid leakages of exam papers before they are written, subsequently tarnishing the image of our country’s quality of education,” a top government official in the Ministry of Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

Even the country’s ordinary subsistence farmers, like Edson Ngulube from Masvingo Province in Mwenezi district, are feeling the pinch of the failure of politicians. “We can’t beat hunger and poverty without support from government with farming inputs,” Ngulube told IPS.

Yet for many Zimbabweans like Ngulube, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life – a life with access to adequate food and income.

Burdened with over half of its population starving, based on one of the U.N. MDGs, Zimbabwe nevertheless committed itself to eradicating hunger by 2015. But, with the Zanu-PF government deeply engrossed in tense power wrangles to succeed Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be way off the mark for reaching this target.

In addition, in September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri went on record as saying that Zimbabwe could fail to meet the target to eradicating hunger by 2015 owing to conflict and natural disasters.

Zimbabwe’s 2012 National Census showed that more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people live in rural areas and, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), this year about 25 percent of them need food aid or they will starve, and between now and 2015, 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food support.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is, however, confident the country is set to end hunger before the 2015 deadline. “We have land and we have hardworking people utilising land and for us there is no reason to doubt that by 2015 we would have eradicated hunger,” Made told IPS.

Claris Madhuku, director for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, perceive things rather differently.

“What actuates Zimbabwe’s failure to attaining MDGs is the on-going governance crisis, a result of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s internal wars to succeed the party’s nonagenarian President, which have not made development any easier,” Madhuku told IPS.

According to the PYD leader, in order for Zimbabwe to experience magnificent development, “the ruling party has to try and get its politics right.”

But with Zimbabwean President Mugabe apparently clinging to the helm of the country’s ruling party with renewed tenacity, it remains to be seen whether or not real development will ever touch the country’s soils.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/feed/ 0
Women on the Edge of Land and Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137977 In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/feed/ 0
Rich Countries Pony Up (Some) for Climate Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/rich-countries-pony-up-some-for-climate-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rich-countries-pony-up-some-for-climate-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/rich-countries-pony-up-some-for-climate-justice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:24:04 +0000 Oscar Reyes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137973 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the Climate Summit 2014 at UN headquarters in New York on Sep. 23. Credit: Green Climate Fund

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the Climate Summit 2014 at UN headquarters in New York on Sep. 23. Credit: Green Climate Fund

By Oscar Reyes
WASHINGTON, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

It’s one of the oldest tricks in politics: Talk down expectations to the point that you can meet them.
And it played out again in Berlin as 21 countries—including the United States—pledged nearly 9.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund, a U.N. body tasked with helping developing countries cope with climate change and transition to clean energy systems.Despite its green mandate, the Green Climate Fund may also support an array of “dirty energy” projects—including power generation from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and destructive mega-dam projects.

The total—which will cover a four-year period before new pledges are made—included three billion dollars from the United States, 1.5 dollars billion from Japan, and around one billion dollars each from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

That’s a big step in the right direction. But put into context, 9.5 billion dollars quickly sounds less impressive.

Floods, droughts, sea level rises, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather are likely to cost developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars every year. And it will take hundreds of billions more to ensure that they industrialise more cleanly than their counterparts did in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

Developed countries should foot a large part of that bill, since they bear the greatest responsibility for causing climate change.

The politics of responsibility

Determining who pays for what is an integral part of achieving an international climate deal. And so far, pledges from rich countries have tracked far behind previous requests and recommendations.

Back in 2009, developed countries signed the Copenhagen Accord, which committed them to move 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to developing countries. A year later, the U.N. climate conference in Cancún called for the Green Climate Fund to be set up to channel a “significant share” of the money developing countries need to adapt to climate change.

Earlier this year, the G77—which is actually a grouping of 133 developing countries—called for 15 dollars billion to be put into the Green Climate Fund. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres set the bar lower at 10 billion dollars. The failure to even reach that figure is likely to put strain on negotiations for a new multilateral climate agreement that is expected to be reached in December 2015.

But it’s not just the headline figure that’s important. Plenty of devils are likely to be lurking in the details.

Delivering on the U.S. pledge requires budgetary approval from a hostile Congress, although a payment schedule stretching over much of the next decade could make that more politically feasible than it initially sounds.

More concerning are the conditions attached to the U.S. pledge, which include a threat that some of the money could be redirected to other funds—likely those run by the World Bank—if “the pace of progress” at the Green Climate Fund is inadequate. Given that the United States is advocating rules on how the fund makes decisions that would tip the balance of power in favor of contributor countries, the threat is far from innocuous.

France will provide a significant proportion of its share as loans rather than grants, while the small print of the UK contribution is likely to reveal that part of its money comes as a “capital contribution,” which can only be paid out as loans.

Those restrictions could limit the scope of activities that the fund can finance, since much of the vital support and infrastructure needed to support community resilience in the face of climate change is too unprofitable to support loan repayments.

Future of the fund

Looming over these issues is the larger, unresolved question of what the fund will actually finance. Some donor countries—including the United States—are pushing for a fund that would support transnational corporations and their supply chains, helping them turn profits from investments in developing countries.

Despite its green mandate, the Green Climate Fund may also support an array of “dirty energy” projects—including power generation from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and destructive mega-dam projects. That’s the subject of an ongoing dispute on the fund’s 24-member board and a persistent complaint from a range of civil society organisations.

That battle is not yet lost.

Despite its shortcomings, the Green Climate Fund has great potential to support a global transition to renewable energy, sustainable public transport systems, and energy efficiency. And with its goal of spending 50 percent of its funds on “adaptation” activities, it could also serve as a vital lifeline for communities already facing the impacts of climate change.

An important milestone was passed with the billions pledged to the Green Climate Fund. But achieving a cleaner, more resilient world will take billions more—along with a commitment to invest the money in projects that mitigate climate change rather than cause it.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/rich-countries-pony-up-some-for-climate-justice/feed/ 0
Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Ricehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137948 Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/feed/ 0
Central American Civil Society Calls for Protection of Local Agriculture at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:12:27 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137946 A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Worried about the effects of global warming on agriculture, water and food security in their communities, social organisations in Central America are demanding that their governments put a priority on these issues in the COP20 climate summit.

In the months leading up to COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – civil society in Central America has met over and over again to reach a consensus position on adaptation and loss and damage.

These, along with mitigation, are the pillars of the negotiations to take place in Lima the first 12 days of December, which are to give rise to a new climate change treaty to be signed a year later at COP21 in Paris.

“Central American organisations working for climate justice, food security and sustainable development are trying to share information and hammer out a common position,” Tania Guillén, who represents Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre environmental group at the talks, told IPS.

That consensus, in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming, will serve “to ask the governments to adopt positions similar to those taken by civil society,” said the representative of the Humboldt Centre, a regional leader in climate change research and activism.

Guillén said the effort to hold a Central American dialogue “is aimed at guaranteeing that adaptation will be a pillar of the new accord, and there is a good climate for that.”

The Nicaraguan activist stressed that the other question of great interest to the region is loss and damage, aimed at addressing and remedying the negative effects of climate change already suffered by the countries of Central America.

“Studies indicate that we have spent 10 percent of GDP to recover from Mitch, which was basically the starting point of risk management in the region,” said Guillén, referring to the hurricane that caused billions of dollars in damages and claimed thousands of lives in Central America in 1998.

These two main thematic areas dominate the agendas of Central American networks seeking solutions to climate change, like the Central American Alliance for Resilience, the Regional Coalition for Risk Management and the Vulnerable Central America Forum.

On Nov. 14 these organisations signed the declaration of the Second Central American Conference on Loss and Damage from Climate Change, where activists from the region studied water stress, food security and the risks facing the population.

One of their demands was that during COP20 the seven governments of the region “promote the declaration of Central America as a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The same thing was demanded by the Fifth Regional Meeting on Vulnerable Central America, United for Life, held in September.

Another gathering in preparation for COP20 will take place Wednesday Nov. 26 in Honduras.

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The demands set forth by civil society are backed by studies highlighting the climate fragility of this region, which is set between two oceans.

In the 2012 report “The economics of climate change in Central America”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that precipitation in the region would decline by at least 11 percent by 2100.

This year, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that forecast.

The effects of climate change on agriculture in this region could also be devastating.

ECLAC estimated that if global warming continues at the current pace, the negative impacts on agricultural production would lead to a loss of nearly 19 percent of GDP in Central America.

For all of these reasons, civil society groups are demanding that governments in the region and the Central American Integration System (SICA) take a firmer stance on climate change adaptation.

In the meantime, they are developing projects to curb the negative effects of global warming in the region.

In Costa Rica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) is working with local authorities to implement a river basin management plan.

The plan includes the Barranca river, which flows into the Pacific ocean after running through an important farming area.

“We are developing a master plan for the basin and we put special importance on future scenarios of climate change and variability,” the coordinator of the CATIE programme, Laura Benegas, told IPS.

The research centre is also carrying out an ambitious seed protection and improvement programme, to guarantee food security in Costa Rica.

SICA, the government counterpart to the regional social organisations, is currently presided over by Belize, whose government ensured that addressing climate change would be among its top priorities.

However, the organisations are sceptical about the possibility of the government delegations taking their positions on board.

“Civil society does not have an influence on the official position to be taken to the talks because there are no mechanisms for that and because many segments of civil society are still having a hard time taking that step,” Alejandra Granados, president of the Costa Rican organisation CO2.cr, told IPS.

With respect to the climate summit in Lima, Central America has the advantage that Costa Rica currently presides over the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, made up of middle-income countries pushing for an adaptation initiative within the UNFCCC.

The group also includes Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the COP20 host country Peru.

During the Sep. 23 climate summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York, the countries of Central America committed themselves to making their economies even greener.

Costa Rica confirmed its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021, Nicaragua promised to continue to invest in renewable energies, and Guatemala pledged to reforest 3.9 million hectares between 2016 and 2020.

Nevertheless, this region shares very little responsibility for global warming.

While China and the United States together account for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Central America is responsible for just 0.8 percent.

By contrast, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by GermanWatch, three nations in this region were among the 10 countries in the world affected the most by climate change between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras is in first place on that list, Nicaragua in fourth place and Guatemala in 10th place. El Salvador is in 13th place, Belize 22nd, Costa Rica 66th and Panama 103rd.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/feed/ 0
Water and Sanitation Report Card: Slow Progress, Inadequate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:06:32 +0000 Tim Brewer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137930 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Tim Brewer
LONDON, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The Ebola crisis has thrown into sharp relief the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in treating and caring for the sick. Dying patients are being taken to hospitals which never had enough water to maintain hygiene, and the epidemic has pushed the system to the breaking point.

Last week’s World Health Organisation report produced by UN Water, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), has provided a sobering picture of water and sanitation services so necessary to healthcare systems around the world.Half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

The annual analysis is a gold mine of data, covering 94 countries and using information from 23 aid agencies. The story it tells this year is of modest progress alongside inadequate funding, poor monitoring and a desperate need for skilled regulators, administrators and engineers to keep services running effectively.

Among GLAAS’s most important findings are how poorly finances intended to address the water and sanitation crisis are targeted.

Urban areas are prioritised over rural regardless of the level of need – nearly three-quarters of aid spending goes to urban areas and more than 60 percent of aid is in the form of loans, which are rarely targeted to the poor. This suggests rural people and the urban poor are being further marginalised.

Nearly three-quarters of the aid targeted at water, sanitation and hygiene programmes is spend on drinking water supplies. Despite these investments in improved supplies, 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough in containing the waste that contaminates it.

Addressing these issues effectively requires money, training and monitoring, but these, too, are falling short.

The GLAAS report has found that financing for water and sanitation in 70 percent of responding countries covers less than 80 percent of the costs of operation and maintenance for existing services.

Regulators, administrators and engineers are all in short supply in developing countries. All are of critical importance in the safe, sustainable delivery of water and basic sanitation services, fundamental to good public health and economic growth. Yet it’s rare to see plans or investment to address this. Only one third of countries even have a human resources strategy in place.

Monitoring is also seriously lacking. WaterAid is examining the sanitation transformations that took place in East Asia, and has found that responsive monitoring which actually leads to changes in policy and investment is a crucial driver of sanitation improvements. But very few countries have enough personnel to collect or review data, or enough senior political interest to demand it.

Less than half of countries have a formal rural service provider that reports to a regulatory authority, and effectively monitors its services.

What does this mean? It means that half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

But there is progress. Proposals for the U.N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals, now under negotiation, include goals for water and sanitation services that include schools and healthcare facilities along with households.

This is of huge importance, particularly when we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa – where healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular were broken in years of conflict and never properly rebuilt – or this year’s cholera outbreak in Ghana, where 20,900 people were infected and 166 died of preventable infection transmitted by water contaminated with human waste.

The GLAAS reports that less than one-third of countries have a plan for drinking water or sanitation in health care facilities and schools that is implemented, funded and reviewed regularly. These targets are long overdue.

The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with water, sanitation and hygiene education, but it will require strong political will, a comprehensive and accelerated approach, and financing.

As the U.N. negotiates the new Sustainable Development Goals, including a strong, dedicated goal on water and sanitation that incorporates water and sanitation targets into goals on healthcare will address many of these shortfalls.

What the present shortlist does not include, but which the GLAAS report has clearly shown, is the need to find and train people to drive this transformation, and keep services running sustainably.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/feed/ 0
Lessons from Jamaica’s Billion-Dollar Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137917 The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

“The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that persons living in poverty, persons living below the poverty line, women heading households with large numbers of children and the elderly are greatly disadvantaged during this period,” Judith Wedderburn, Jamaica project director at the non-profit German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), told IPS."The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices." -- Judith Wedderburn of FES

“The concern is that as the climate change implications are extended for several years that these kinds of situations are going to become more and more extreme, [such as] greater floods with periods of extreme drought.”

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a FES and Panos Caribbean workshop for journalists held here earlier this month, said Caribbean countries – which already have to grapple with a finite amount of space for food production – now have the added challenges of extreme rainfall events or droughts due to climate change.

“In Jamaica, we’ve had several months of drought, which affected the most important food production parishes in the country,” she said, adding that the problem does not end when the drought breaks.

“We are then affected by extremes of rainfall which results in flooding. The farming communities lose their crops during droughts [and] families associated with those farmers are affected. The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices and that contributes to substantial food insecurity – meaning people cannot easily access the food that they need to keep their families well fed.”

One local researcher predicts that things are likely to get even worse. Dale Rankine, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS that climate change modelling suggests that the region will be drier heading towards the middle to the end of the century.

“We are seeing projections that suggest that we could have up to 40 percent decrease in rainfall, particularly in our summer months. This normally coincides with when we have our major rainfall season,” Rankine said.

“This is particularly important because it is going to impact most significantly on food security. We are also seeing suggestions that we could have increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and this high variability is almost certainly going to impact negatively on crop yields.”

He pointed to “an interesting pattern” of increased rainfall over the central regions, but only on the outer extremities, while in the west and east there has been a reduction in rainfall.

“This is quite interesting because the locations that are most important for food security, particularly the parishes of St. Elizabeth [and] Manchester, for example, are seeing on average reduced rainfall and so that has implications for how productive our production areas are going to be,” Rankine said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently that September 2014 was the hottest in 135 years of record keeping. It noted that during September, the globe averaged 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), which was the fourth monthly record set this year, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, the first nine months of 2014 had a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record.

Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s water, land, environment and climate change minister, said more than 18,000 small farmers have been affected by the extreme drought that has been plaguing the country for months.

He said the agricultural sector has lost nearly one billion dollars as a result of drought and brush fires caused by extreme heat waves.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall had significantly limited the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country’s facilities.

“Preliminary rainfall figures for the month of June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 percent), were in receipt of less than half of their normal rainfall. The southern parishes of St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas along with St Mary and Portland were hardest hit,” Pickersgill said.

Clarendon, he said, received only two percent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester with four percent, St. Thomas six percent, St. Mary eight percent, and 12 percent for Kingston and St. Andrew.

Additionally, Pickersgill said that inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro Rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986, while inflows into the Hermitage Dam are currently at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change,” Pickersgill told IPS.

Wedderburn said Jamaica must take immediate steps to adapt to climate change.

“So the challenge for the government is to explore what kinds of adaptation methods can be used to teach farmers how to do more successful water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought their crops can still grow so that they can have food to sell to families at reasonable prices to deal with the food insecurity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/feed/ 1
The Double Burden of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-double-burden-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:26:37 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137900 These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The first-ever Global Nutrition Report, a peer-reviewed publication released this month, and figures from the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlight a multifaceted and complex phenomenon behind malnutrition.

“The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition”."The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country. And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition” – Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director

Beside hunger then, governments and development organisations have also been forced to start tackling over-nutrition.

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained in a statement.

The solution does not lie in the realm of science, health or agriculture alone. It requires a cross sectorial and multi dimensional approach that includes education, women’s empowerment, market regulation, technological research and, above all, political commitment.

For this reason, representatives of governments, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector met in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that took place at FAO headquarters on Nov. 19-21. Jointly organised by FAO and WHO, the conference came 22 years after its first edition and, unfortunately, addressed the same unsolved problem.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, has repercussions on the capability of people to live a full life, work, care for their children, be productive, generate a positive cycle and improve their living conditions. Figures from the Global Nutrition Report estimate that the cost of malnutrition is around four to five percent of national GDP, suggesting that prevention would be more cost-effective.

With the goal of improving nutrition through the implementation of evidence-based policies and effective international cooperation, ICN2 produced two documents to help governments and stakeholders head in the right direction: the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a Framework for Action.

The conference also heard a strong call for accountability and for the strengthening of nutrition in the post-2015 development agenda.

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at ICN2, remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children.

According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. He added that Chile currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.

This happens in a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour, according to the permanent representative of Chile at FAO, Luis Fernando Ayala Gonzalez.

In an address to the conference, Queen Letizia of Spain also acknowledged the responsibility of the private sector: “It is necessary to help the economic interests converging towards public health. It is worth remembering that no country in the world has been able to reverse the epidemic of obesity in all age groups. None.”

The outcome of ICN2 brought consensus around a plan of action and some key targets.

Educating children about healthy habits and women who are in charge of feeding the family was recognised as crucial, as was breastfeeding, which should be encouraged (through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace), and the need to empower women working in agriculture.

Supporting small and family farming would also give people better opportunities to eat local, fresh and seasonal produce as well as fruit and vegetables, reducing the consumption of packaged, processed food that is often low in nutrients, vitamins and fibres and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats.

However, teaching people how to eat is not enough, if they cannot easily access quality food – hence the need for relevant policies targeting the food chain and distribution.

Initiatives like the Fruit in Schools programme proposed by New Zealand go in the right direction, especially when implemented within a coordinated policy that promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle that fights consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/feed/ 2
Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/feed/ 0
U.N. Concerned Over Ebola Backlashhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:36:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137797 Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is working on an emergency footing to battle the outbreak of Ebola, is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa.

“It’s a psychological fear,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told IPS. “And there has been a chain reaction.”

He cautioned there should be no action which is not based on science or medical evidence.

Ban said the fight against Ebola is a “top priority” of the United Nations and admitted he was conscious of the fact the disease has had a “heavy impact on all spectrum of our lives.”

The secretary-general’s warning resonated in North Africa last week when Morocco postponed hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations because of its own fears over the possible spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco’s Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine was quoted as saying: “This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that this virus would put on the health of our fellow Africans.”

The New York Times said “fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray.”

As a result, the Confederation of African Football last week removed Morocco as host of the biennial soccer championship, with Equatorial Guinea stepping in to take over as host of the 16-team games early next year.

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Geographically, Morocco is a North African country.

Last July, Seychelles forfeited a match after it refused to permit a team from Sierra Leone into the country because of concerns over Ebola.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Philippine peacekeepers who returned home from Liberia recently were to be temporarily settled either on an island off Luzon or put on board a ship.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that once peacekeepers have completed their missions, these soldiers come under the authority of their respective governments.

Ban told IPS he was thankful for the countries that have pledged “massive resources” to fight Ebola.

These include the United States, UK, China, Japan, France and several other European countries.

He singled out the United States for providing over 4,000 soldiers and Cuba for providing hundreds of medical personnel in the fight against Ebola.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve over six billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease and also protect U.S. nationals.

“I hope the lame duck Congress will approve it,” Ban said.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the overall financial requirements are estimated at about 988 million dollars, of which 60 percent has been funded.

Additionally, there is also a Trust Fund, with 58.7 million dollars as pledges.

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told the 193-member General Assembly last week that “Ebola is a fearsome enemy and we will not win the battle by chasing it.”

The death toll has exceeded “a grim milestone” of 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, “with the real number likely to be much higher,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported over 13,000 Ebola cases in eight countries: the three most affected nations in West Africa, plus the United States, Spain, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

As the crisis continues, about 3,300 children have become Ebola orphans while food prices have been rising in the three affected countries, schools have closed and traders have refused to bring their products to the market.

At the just-ended summit of G20 world leaders from both developed and developing nations, the secretary-general said, “The rate of new cases is showing signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But as rates decline in one area, they are rising in others.”

And transmission continues to outpace the response, he added at the conclusion of the summit Sunday in Brisbane, which was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He urged the G20 to step up “so that we can meet the 70/70 goal: isolating and treating 70 per cent of all Ebola cases and providing safe and dignified burials to 70 per cent of those who have died.”

He said the international community must also address the secondary impacts on healthcare, education and soaring food prices caused by a disruption in farming that could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region.

“It is important we do not further isolate these three countries by imposing travel restrictions. This will not impede the spread of the virus: it will simply hamper our efforts to mobilise support,” he argued.

According to the WHO, there is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/feed/ 0
OPINION: Now Is the Time to Tackle Malnutrition and Its Massive Human Costshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 13:26:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137740 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By José Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan
ROME/GENEVA, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The scourge of malnutrition affects the most vulnerable in society, and it hurts most in the earliest stages of life. Today, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, about 11 percent of the global population.

Undernutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all child deaths, and a quarter of living children are stunted due to inadequate nutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies – due to diets lacking in vitamins and minerals, also known as “hidden hunger” – affects two billion people.Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Another worrying form of malnutrition – obesity – is on the rise. More than 500 million adults are obese as a result of diets containing excess fat, sugars and salt.

This exposes people to a greater risk of noncommunicable diseases – like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer – now the top causes of death in the world. Poor diet and physical inactivity also account for 10 percent of the global burden of disease.

Many developing countries now face multiple burdens of malnutrition, with people living in the same communities – sometimes even the same households – suffering from undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity.

These numbers are shocking and must serve as a global call to action.

Besides the terrible human suffering, unhealthy diets also have a detrimental impact on the ability of countries to develop and prosper – the cost of malnutrition, in all its forms, is estimated between four and five percent of global GDP.

Government leaders, scientists, nutritionists, farmers, civil society and private sector representatives from around the world will gather in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21 for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). It is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss: making peoples’ right to a healthy diet a global reality.

Current food systems are unsustainable and unhealthy

Creating healthy and sustainable food systems is key to overcoming malnutrition in all its forms – from hunger to obesity.

Food production has tripled since 1945, while average food availability per person has risen by only 40 percent. Our food systems have succeeded in increasing production, however, this has come at a high environmental cost and has not been enough to end hunger.

Meanwhile, food systems have continued to evolve with an even greater proportion of food being processed and traded, leading to greater availability of foods with high energy, fats, sugars and salt.

Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Put simply: we need healthy and sustainable food systems – that produce the right balance of foods, in sufficient quantity and quality, and that is accessible to all – if we want to lead healthy, productive and sustainable lives.

Acting now

In preparation for ICN2, countries have agreed to a Political Declaration and a Framework for Action on nutrition containing concrete recommendations to develop coherent public policies in agriculture, trade, social protection, education and health that promote healthy diets and better nutrition at all stages of life.

The Framework for Action gives governments a plan for developing and implementing national policies and investments throughout the food chain to ensure healthy, diverse and balanced diets for all.

This can include strengthening local food production and processing, especially by family farmers and small-scale producers, and linking it to school meals; reducing fat, sugars and salt in processed food; having schools and other public institutions offer healthy diets; protecting children from marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks; and allowing people to make informed choices regarding what they eat.

While government health, agriculture, and education ministries should take the lead, this task includes all involved in producing, distributing and selling food.

The ICN2 Framework for Action also suggests greater investments to guarantee universal access to effective nutrition interventions, such as protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, and increasing nutrients available to mothers.

Countries can start implementing these actions now. The first step is to establish national nutrition targets to implement already agreed-upon global targets, as set out in the Framework for Action. ICN2 is the time and place to make these commitments.

FAO and WHO are ready to assist countries in this effort. By transforming commitment into action and cooperating more effectively with one another and with other stakeholders, the world has a real chance of ending the multiple burdens of malnutrition in all its forms within a generation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs/feed/ 3
How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137736 An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/feed/ 0
Big Soda Challenged on World Diabetes Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/big-soda-challenged-on-world-diabetes-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-soda-challenged-on-world-diabetes-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/big-soda-challenged-on-world-diabetes-day/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 22:22:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137727 A soda-lemonade stand with soda bottles topped with lemons, in Rishikesh, India. Credit: Surya Prakash / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A soda-lemonade stand with soda bottles topped with lemons, in Rishikesh, India. Credit: Surya Prakash / CC-BY-SA-3.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

Corporations marketing unhealthy foods to poorer consumers are being challenged for their role in the growing global burden of diseases like diabetes.

Over 340 million people are living with diabetes, and the World Health Organization predicts the number of people who die from diabetes each year will double between 2005 and 2030.  Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day."Being poor also puts you at risk in countries like Indonesia where soda companies actually purposely market to poorer marginalised people with lower levels of education.” -- Dr. Alessandro Demaio

Dr. Alessandro Demaio, a postdoctoral fellow in global health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at Harvard University, told IPS that there is a clear link between poverty, diabetes and the marketing tactics used by junk food and soda companies.

“We know that globally about 80 percent of diabetes occurs in low- and middle-income countries, and we also know that in rich countries like Australia, the UK and the U.S., the worst affected populations are those who are most marginalised and impoverished,” Demaio said.

“The commonly held myth that non-communicable diseases are linked to affluence is pervasive and absolutely untrue.”

Diabetes is both a cause and consequence of poverty, Demaio said. “Diabetes care in a country like Vietnam or Malawi can cost 70 percent of a person’s income. We should remember that being poor also puts you at risk in countries like Indonesia where soda companies actually purposely market to poorer marginalised people with lower levels of education.”

Soda companies’ role in contributing to the diabetes burden is being challenged with the introduction of soda taxes in Mexico and Berkeley, California.

Dr. Vicki Alexander from Berkeley vs. Big Soda spoke to IPS about the successful campaign for Berkeley to become the first city in the United States to vote to introduce a soda tax last week.

She said that the Berkeley campaign was able to learn a lot from the successes that Mexico has had since introducing a soda tax, of one peso (eight cents) per litre in January 2014.

“Mexico City came up here [to Berkeley] to give a presentation when they got their preliminary data out,” Alexander told IPS.

Mexico City has seen a decrease in consumption of sugary beverages by 10 percent and an increase in water consumption by 13 percent, she said.

“It is such an inspiration because it is nationwide in Mexico. It shows us that yes, these taxes will have an impact,” Alexander noted. “Mexico became a model that we could discuss, the same issue in terms of the impact on diabetes and obesity.”

Demaio agrees that addressing lifestyle diseases such as diabetes should involve taxing unhealthy foods and drinks.

“We’re going to need to look at taxing things like soda, the foods that we know cause disease, we need to make them less affordable but we need to use that money to make other healthier foods more affordable.

“The soda tax in Mexico for example was a great step forward. The limitations on sizing of soda in New York that [Mayor] Michael Bloomberg tried to bring through but wasn’t able to, was again a great step forward,” Demaio said.

The Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign deliberately involved people of colour in positions of leadership, because they are disproportionately affected by the issue, Alexander said. She said that soda companies “make decisions to market their beverages to people of colour.”

“They make huge profits off people being sick and try to confuse the public with statistics which have been completely refuted,” she said.

Diabetes and Poverty

Speaking at the United Nations in July, United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark said, “For too long NCDs were regarded as a problem for high-income countries.”

She said that this has changed as the United Nations now recognises “that developing countries are home to eighty per cent of the world’s NCD-related deaths.

“Today, low and middle-income countries are bearing the brunt of NCDs. Therefore, understanding the far-reaching development consequences of this is very important.”

Clark added that the cost of the four main NCDs, including diabetes, to lower and middle income countries is predicted to exceed seven trillion dollars between 2011 and 2025.

Demaio also told IPS that low and middle-income countries are struggling to keep up with the rapid change in the health challenges they are facing. “[High income countries] have seen the same health transition over a hundred years that some countries like Mongolia are seeing in 10 or 15 years.”

Middle income countries like China and India are among the worst affected: 13 percent of China’s population now has diabetes compared with only one percent in 1980.

“We have a situation where in many countries around the world, particularly in middle income countries, we have obese people living in the same house as people who are malnourished. This whole complex situation where we have over-nutrition and under-nutrition in the same family shows how broken our food system is globally.”

Demaio said that this is an outcome of the globalisation of the food system and the loss of food related resilience.

He says that many people have now lost the resilience that is the ability to be able to cook, to know what is in season, to be able to choose foods that make sense based on where you are geographically.

This loss of food resilience impacts not only people’s diets and health, but also has environmental and cultural consequences.

Highly processed foods that are transported long distances are more environmentally damaging than food that is local, in season, cheaper, healthier and fresher, Demaio said.

This also contributes to a loss of food culture as  “a single homogenised food culture is spreading around the world, replacing traditional diets and traditional food practices.

“We are a global community, this is a global problem, they are global companies, and these are global determinants of health. That’s the way that we need to see this challenge.” Demaio said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/big-soda-challenged-on-world-diabetes-day/feed/ 0
Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137720 Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/feed/ 0
Fishing for Peace in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-for-peace-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:21:38 +0000 John Feffer and Michal Witkowski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137695 The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

By John Feffer and Michal Witkowski
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Environmental problems, by their nature, don’t respect borders. Air and sea pollution often affect countries that had nothing to do with their production. Many extreme weather events, like typhoons, strike more than one country. Climate change affects everyone.

These environmental problems can aggravate existing conflicts among countries. But they can also bring countries together in joint efforts to find solutions. A case in point is the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in Korea.

The NLL is the oft-disputed border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the peninsula. Although the two countries agreed to a territorial boundary at the 38th parallel following the Korean War armistice, they have never agreed on the maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea, which threads between a number of islands and through rich fishing grounds.

Over the years, North and South Korea have exchanged artillery fire across the NLL, and naval vessels as well as fishing boats have clashed in the area on a number of occasions.

Various environmental challenges have only sharpened the conflict. But with a new imperative to address these environmental problems, the NLL can offer the two Koreas an opportunity to chart a new relationship for the 21st century.

Anatomy of a Dispute

North Korea maintains six naval squadrons on the [Northern Limit Line]. The North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels. The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority.
The NLL region has been a zone of contention between North and South Korea for more than six decades. It has been the site of several clashes between the Koreas.

Among the most notable are the naval confrontations of 1999 and 2002, the 2009 gunboat incident near Daecheong Island, the 2010 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship.

This maritime border is heavily militarised. North Korea maintains six naval squadrons there. According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels—around 60 percent of which are stationed around the coastal borders.

Due to the decline of the North Korean economy, the fleet mostly consists of smaller vessels used for covert operations and for escorting fishing boats around the NLL.

The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority. It’s further reinforced by the presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in nearby Yokosuka, Japan.

South Korean troops, along with their American counterparts, carry out annual drills in the region, which always raise tensions along the disputed maritime border.

North Korea does not recognise the present border arrangement. Furthermore, the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regime set by the U.N. – which grants states special resource exploration rights in a sea zone stretching 200 miles from their land borders – cannot be applied in a close-quarter situation such as the NLL.

The fishing zones that lie within the NLL are the source of fierce contention between both South and North Korea.

One of the major arguments that North Korea has made around the disputed NLL is that South Korea has access to the majority of fisheries within the current boundaries, while the North occupies far less territory than it potentially could.

When the NLL was being drawn up, the international standard for territorial water limits was three nautical miles; by the 1970s, however, 12 nautical miles became the norm. The North’s argument is that the current setting prevents it from accessing neighbouring sea areas, which, in Pyongyang’s view, should belong to the North.

Such a border set-up fails to acknowledge that small islands, such as Yeonpyeong Island, are not equivalent to continental masses in terms of generating maritime boundaries.

Environmental issues

Overfishing and other destructive fishing practices that have continued for decades have had perhaps the greatest impact on the NLL’s environmental situation. Such activities have caused habitat destruction and biomass change in the Yellow Sea.

For instance, due to overfishing between the 1960s and the 1980s, the number of invertebrates and fish dropped by over 40 percent. With the decrease in fish populations, more effort is required to maintain the desired catch capacity, and many commercially significant species have been severely depleted. As a result, the species composition and the relative proportions of the fish found in the region have been altered.

One country alone cannot ensure the region’s sustainability. The trans-boundary nature of these issues requires a cooperative approach.

The nature of the Yellow Sea – and in particular the seabed on which the NLL is located – limits water circulation, increasing the amount of harmful sediments and aggravating the quality of the water. This has decreased the sea’s ability to “cleanse itself,” making the area around the NLL even more vulnerable to pollution and the harmful effects of human activities on land.

Habitat depletion can greatly affect local communities as well as cause problems for the fishing industry. Development projects on the South Korean side have been a major factor in this process.

More than 30 percent of marshland fields have been lost in South Korea between 1975 and 2005 due to dam construction, embankment, and dikes. Rice paddy fields have been lost as a result of reclamation and the lowering of water tables in nearby lakes.

An ever-increasing market demand for seafood boosts the profitability of short-term-oriented fishing activities. Insufficient pollution prevention only aggravates the situation.

Possible Solutions

As a result of the tense security situation and the unresolved border – along with the lack of a peace treaty between the Koreas to formally end the Korean War – any sort of consensus on the matter of the NLL in the context of inter-Korean relations is difficult to achieve.

One proposed solution is the establishment of a joint fishing zone between the two countries. This zone would boost the North’s fishing industry and could serve as a start to a trust-building process between the neighbours.

Such a process would be based on increased economic cooperation in the NLL region that could lead to further improvements in relations and make future collaboration more likely.

The “Sunshine Policy,” a period of North-South engagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was an attempt at establishing such cooperation. In the negotiations regarding the NLL during that period, North Korea demanded changes in the border situation that had to be met before it could agree to participate in the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

The South reportedly agreed to this condition. However, the summit failed to bring any real closure to the matter: concrete decisions were left to be discussed in the future.

The overall framework dating back to the Sunshine Policy’s prime is still in place. For instance, the Kaesong Industrial Park – a joint North-South venture on the northern side of the DMZ – is still operational. Ties between the Koreas could be further enhanced by cooperation around the NLL region.

Some ideas have already been put forward and were initially agreed upon by both sides. In 2000, for example, the two countries came to an agreement along the maritime boundary on the east side of the peninsula where South Korean boats shared the profits from their squid fishing in Northern waters.

Also in 2000, the two sides agreed to create a special peace and cooperation zone around the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Another proposal was to combine a joint fishing zone with a common industrial complex in Haeju, a port city on the Northern side. Finally, the Koreas agreed to establish a “peace sea” from the island of Yeonpyeong right to the estuary of the Han River.

No military presence would be allowed in this area. With the South’s withdrawal from the Sunshine Policy framework under the right-wing President Lee Myung-Bak, however, the joint projects were put on hold.

A resuscitation of such joint projects could potentially move cooperation beyond the issue of the NLL to other areas of both business and policy-making. Two major obstacles would need to be overcome in order for such a solution to work.

First, an independent body to monitor the area would need to be appointed to prevent breaches of the agreement and to ensure that both parties follow environmental rules. This mechanism would have to recognise the specificity of the issues surrounding the NLL and formulate policies accordingly.

Second, the two sides would have to agree on a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism.

A universal solution that can resolve the NLL issue does not exist. A carefully devised policy that takes into account the political and economic tensions between the two Koreas may be the answer.

Importantly, the NLL would have to be gradually demilitarised to reduce the probability of any unwanted conflict that could destabilise the area. However, there is minimal possibility that the two countries will agree to reduce their military positions given that the two countries signed the armistice nearly six decades ago but never agreed on a peace treaty.

Thus, for such a solution to become possible, economic cooperation must come first.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/feed/ 0
A Fair Climate Treaty or None at All, Jamaica Warnshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 19:43:14 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137688 Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

As the clock counts down to the last major climate change meeting of the year, before countries must agree on a definitive new treaty in 2015, a senior United Nations official says members of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) “need to be innovative and think outside the box” if they hope to make progress on key issues.

Dr. Arun Kashyap, U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for Jamaica, said AOSIS has a significant agenda to meet at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Lima, Peru, and “it would be its creativity that would facilitate success in arriving at a consensus on key issues.”"We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do.” -- Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung

Kashyap cited the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their compelling need for adaptation and arriving at a viable mechanism to address Loss and Damage while having enhanced access to finance, technology and capacity development.

“A common agreed upon position that is acceptable across the AOSIS would empower the climate change division (in all SIDS) and reinforce its mandate to integrate implementation of climate change activities in the national development priorities,” Kashyap told IPS.

At COP17, held in Durban, South Africa, governments reached a new agreement to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. They decided that the agreement with legal form would be adopted at COP21 scheduled for Paris in 2015, and parties would have until 2020 to enact domestic legislation for their ratification and entry into force of the treaty.

Decisions taken at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, mandated the 195 parties to start the process for the preparation and submission of “Nationally determined Contributions”. These mitigation commitments are “applicable to all” and will be supported both for preparing a report of the potential activities and their future implementation.

The report should be submitted to the Secretariat during the first quarter of 2015 so as to enable them to be included in the agreement.

AOSIS is an inter-governmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small island countries established in 1990. Its main purpose is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States to address global warming.

In October, Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong, the lead negotiator for AOSIS, outlined priorities ahead of the Dec. 1-12 talks.

She said the 2015 agreement must be a legally binding protocol, applicable to all; ambition should be in line with delivering a long term global goal of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees and need to consider at this session ways to ensure this; mitigation efforts captured in the 2015 agreement must be clearly quantifiable so that we are able to aggregate the efforts of all parties.

Uludong also called for further elaboration of the elements to be included in the 2015 agreement; the identification of the information needed to allow parties to present their intended nationally determined contributions in a manner that facilitates clarity, transparency, and understanding relative to the global goal; and she said finance is a fundamental building block of the 2015 agreement and should complement other necessary means of implementation including transfer of technology and capacity building.

Sixteen Caribbean countries are members of AOSIS. They have been meeting individually to agree on country positions ahead of a meeting in St. Kitts Nov. 19-20 where a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) strategy for the world climate talks is expected to be finalised.

But Jamaica has already signaled its intention to walk out of the negotiations if rich countries are not prepared to agree on a deal which will reduce the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean.

“We have as a red line with respect to our position that if the commitments with respect to reducing greenhouse gases are not of a significant and meaningful amount, then we will not accept the agreement,” Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung, told IPS.

“We will not accept a bad agreement,” he said, explaining that a bad agreement is one that does not speak adequately to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or the provision of financing for poorer countries. It is not yet a CARICOM position, he said, but an option that Jamaica would support if the group was for it.

“We don’t have to be part of the consensus, but we can just walk away from the agreement. We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do,” Mahlung added.

The Lima talks are seen as a bridge to the agreement in 2015.

SIDS are hoping to get developed countries to commit to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but are prepared to accept a 2.0 degrees Celsius rise at the maximum. This will mean that countries will have to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Jamaica’s climate change minister described the December COP20 meeting as “significant,” noting that “the decisions that are expected to be taken in Lima, will, no doubt, have far-reaching implications for the decisions that are anticipated will be taken next year during COP 21 in Paris, when a new climate agreement is expected to be formulated.”

Pickersgill said climate change will have devastating consequences on a global scale even if there are significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change.”

But Pickersgill said there are several challenges for Small Island Developing States like Jamaica to adapt to climate change.

“These include our small size and mountainous terrain, which limits where we can locate critical infrastructure such as airports as well as population centres, and the fact that our main economic activities are conducted within our coastal zone, including tourism, which is a major employer, as well as one of our main earners of foreign exchange,” he said.

“The agriculture sector, and in particular, the vulnerability of our small farmers who are affected by droughts or other severe weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes, and our dependency on imported fossil fuels to power our energy sources and drive transportation.”

Pickersgill told IPS on the sidelines of Jamaica’s national consultation, held here on Nov. 6, that his country’s delegation will, through their participation, work towards the achievement of a successful outcome for the talks.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-fair-climate-treaty-or-none-at-all-jamaica-warns/feed/ 1
Filipinos Take to the Streets One Year After Typhoon Haiyanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:53:07 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137683 One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

People covered their bodies with mud to protest against government ineptitude and abandonment; others lighted paper lanterns and candles and released white doves and balloons to remember the dead, offer thanks and pray for more strength to move on; while many trooped to a vast grave site with white crosses to lay flowers for those who died, and to cry one more time.

These were the scenes this past Saturday, Nov. 8, in Tacloban City in central Philippines, known as ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan.

One year after the storm flattened the city with 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges that caused unimaginable damage to the city centre and its outlying areas and killed more than 6,500 people, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of Haiyan, known among Filipinos as Yolanda, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.

Thousands of stories, mostly about loss, hopelessness, loneliness, hunger, disease, and deeper poverty flooded media portals in the Philippines. There were also abundant stories of heroism and demonstrations of extraordinary strength.

Understanding the scope of the disaster

"We have felt a year's worth of the government's vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year's worth of news and studies that confirm this situation." -- Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors
There may be some signs that suggest a semblance of revival in Tacloban City, located about 580 km southeast of Manila, but it has yet to fully come back to life – that process could take six to eight years, possibly more, according to members of the international donor community.

Still, the anniversary was marked by praise for the Philippines’ “fast first-step recovery” from a disaster of this magnitude, compared with the experience of other disaster-hit places such as Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean.

In its assessment of the relief and reconstruction effort, released prior to the anniversary, the Philippines-based multilateral Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that while “reconstruction efforts continue to be a struggle”, a lot has been done.

“The ADB has been in the Philippines for 50 years, and we can say that other countries would not have responded this strongly to such a huge crisis,” ADB Vice President for East Asia and Southeast Asia Stephen Groff told a press conference last week.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder echoed his words, adding, “The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters.”

Experts say that Filipinos’ ‘bayanihan’ – a sense of neighbourhood and communal unity – helped strengthen the daunting rehabilitation process.

“Yolanda was the largest and most powerful typhoon ever to hit land and it impacted a huge area, including some of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It is important that we look at the scale and scope of this disaster one year after Yolanda,” Groff stressed.

He said the typhoon affected 16 million people, or 3.4 million families, and damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, 248 transmission towers and over 1,200 public structures such as provincial, municipal and village halls and public markets.

Also damaged were 305 km of farm-to-market roads, 20,000 classrooms and over 400 health facilities such as hospitals and rural health stations.

In total, the storm affected more than 14.5 million people in 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces across nine regions. To date, more than four million people still remain homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has faced criticism from affected residents, who used Saturday’s memorial to blast the government for its ineptitude in the recovery process.

Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors, told journalists, “We have felt a year’s worth of the government’s vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year’s worth of news and studies that confirm this situation.”

Protesters burned a nine-foot effigy of the president on the day of the anniversary.

Early morning on Nov. 8 more than 5,000 people holding balloons, lanterns, and candles walked around Tacloban City in an act of mourning and remembrance.

The Roman Catholic Church declared the anniversary date as a national day of prayer as church bells pealed and sirens wailed at the start of a mass at the grave-site where nearly 3,000 people are buried.

Hundreds of fishermen staged protests to demand that the government provide new homes, jobs, and livelihoods, accusing government officials of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

Filipino netizens recalled that they cried nonstop while helplessly watching on their television and computer screens how Tacloban City was battered by the storm.

They posted and shared photos of Filipinos who were hailed as heroes because they volunteered to meet and drive survivors to their relatives in Manila and other places as they alighted from military rescue planes.

“Before” and “after” pictures of the area also made the rounds on the Web.

‘Billions’ in international assistance

President Aquino in a visit to nearby affected Samar island before the storm anniversary said, “I would hope we can move even faster and I will push everybody to move even faster, but the sad reality is the scope of work we need to do can really not be done overnight. I want to do it correctly so that benefits are permanent.”

The Philippine government estimates the need for a 170-billion-peso (3.8-billion-dollar) master-plan to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-metre-high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent further damage in case of another disaster.

Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban City, told journalists two million people are still living in tents and only 1,422 households have been relocated to permanent shelters. As many as 205,500 survivors are still in need of permanent houses.

The recovery process was successful in erecting new electricity posts a few months after the storm, while black swaths of mud have now been replaced by greenery, with crops quickly replanted, and rice fields thriving once more.

Government, private, and international aid workers also restored sanitation and hygiene programmes in the aftermath of the storm.

The ADB announced it was trying to determine whether or not to provide a further 150 million dollars worth of official assistance to Yolanda survivors on top of the 900 million dollars already pledged in grants and concessions at the start of reconstruction efforts.

The United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to provide a 10-million-dollar technical assistance plan to develop 18,400 projects across the country. These will cover other hard-hit areas outside of Tacloban City, such as Guian in Eastern Samar, which will also receive 10 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for rehabilitation programmes.

The Canadian government also offered 3.75 million Canadian dollars to restore livelihoods and access to water to the affected provinces of Leyte and Iloilo.

The Philippine government assured that the billions donated, offered and pledged by the international community would be safely accounted for, monitored, guarded and reported on with transparency.

Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was designated in charge of the rehabilitation programme, said that already he has confirmed reports that some bunkhouses in Tacloban and Eastern Samar were built with substandard materials and that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

“That’s when I realised we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

He asked Filipinos to share information that they know about irregularities on the management and administration of the billions of pesos from the national coffers and donor organisations for rebuilding communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/feed/ 0
Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ido Liven http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137679 When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

By Ido Liven
LONDON, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

Climate change is projected by many scientists to bring with it a range of calamities – from widespread floods, to prolonged heatwaves and slowly but relentlessly rising seas – taking the heaviest toll on those already most vulnerable.

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist.

While many could be uprooted in search of a safer place to live, either temporarily or permanently, some may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape.

“People around the world are more or less mobile, depending on a range of factors,” argues Prof Richard Black from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, “but they can become trapped in circumstances where they want or need [to move] but cannot.”When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist … they may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape

According to Black, “it is most likely to be because they cannot afford it, or because there is no [social] network for them to follow or job for them to do … or because there is some kind of policy barrier to movement such as a requirement for a visa that is unobtainable, in some countries even the requirement for an exit visa that is unobtainable.”

For the most vulnerable, climate change could mean double jeopardy – first, from worsening environmental conditions threatening their livelihood, and second, from the diminished financial, social and even physical assets required for moving away provoked by this situation.

A project on migration and global environmental change led by Black was one of the first to draw attention to the notion of “trapped populations”.

In its report, published in 2011 by the Foresight think tank at the U.K. Government Office for Science, the authors warned that “in the decades ahead, millions of people will be unable to move away from locations in which they are extremely vulnerable to environmental change.”

An example the Foresight report mentions is that of inhabitants of small island states living in flood-prone areas or near exposed coasts. People in these areas might not have the means to address these hazards and also lack the resources to migrate out of the islands.

The report warned that such situations could escalate to risky displacement and humanitarian emergencies.

In fact, past cases offer some evidence of groups of people who have become immobile as a result of either extreme weather events or even slow onset crises.

One such example, says Black, is the drought in the 1980s in Africa’s Sahel region, when there was a decrease in the numbers of adult men who chose to migrate – the same people who would otherwise leave the area.

“Under drought conditions they were less able to do so because that involves drawing on your assets – in the Sahel often assets would be livestock – and the drought kills livestock, which means you can’t convert livestock into cash, and then you can’t pay the smuggler or afford the cost of the journey that would take you out of that area.”

Nevertheless, Black argues that in many cases it would be especially difficult to distinguish people who remain because they can and wish to, from those who are really unable to leave. In addition, environmental change could also drive people to migrate towards areas where they are even more at risk than those they have left.

In the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam, researchers foresee climate change contributing to floods, loss of land and increased soil salinity. Facing these hazards, local residents in an already impoverished region could find themselves unable to cope, and also unable to move away.

“It would generally be income and assets that will determine whether people can stay where they are or need to relocate,” says Dr Christopher Smith from the University of Sussex, who is currently conducting a European Community-funded project assessing the risk of trapped populations in the Mekong delta.

“Within the short term, it would mostly be temporary movement, but in the future … there could be more permanent migration.”

According to Smith, “the Mekong, being such a long river that flows through so many different countries, will make [this case] quite unique in terms of changes to the water budget in the delta and, of course, factors like cultures and populations in the delta will play a part.”

Conclusions from the study are likely to be relevant to other cases around the world, and specifically to other low lying mega-deltas with similar characteristics, Smith adds.

In Guatemala, researchers found that relatively isolated mountain communities could also be facing the risk of becoming stranded by climate change.

According to a study published earlier this year, irregular rainfall could be posing a serious threat for the food security and sources of income of communities in the municipality of Cabricán who rely on subsistence rain-fed agriculture.

Yet, the risks associated with climate change are not confined to developing countries. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the south-east of the United States in 2005, offered a vivid example when the New Orleans’ Superdome housed more than 20,000 people over several days.

“That was to do with the fact that an evacuation plan had been designed with the idea that everybody would leave by car, but essentially there were sections of the population that didn’t have a car and were not going to leave by car, and also some people who didn’t believe the messages around evacuation,” says Black.

“And those people who were trapped in the eye of the storm were then more likely to be displaced later – so they were more likely to end up in one of the trailer parks, the temporary accommodation put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Scientists are wary of linking Hurricane Katrina, or any single extreme weather event, to climate change. Yet, studies show that a warmer world might not necessarily mean more hurricanes, but such storms could be fiercer than those that these areas are used to.

Beyond science, says Black, international organisations are aware of the issue. “I’ve had quite extensive discussions with UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the International Organization for Migration, the European Commission and a number of other bodies on these matters. There is a degree of interest in this idea that people can be trapped.”

A paper on Populations ‘trapped’ at times of crisis written by Black with Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex and published in February, notes that while it might still be early to suggest specific policy measures to address this predicament, there are several steps decision makers can take, and not only on the national level.

“As long as we have limited information on trapped populations,” say the authors, “the policy goal should be to avoid situations in which people are unable to move when they want to, not to promote policy that encourages them to move when they may not want to, and up-to-date information allowing them to make an informed choice.”

Intergovernmental fora – and among them the loss and damage stream in international climate negotiations – are yet to address specifically the challenge of trapped populations, but Europe might already be showing the way.

A European Commission working paper on climate change, environmental degradation and migration that accompanies the European Union’s strategy on adaptation to climate change adopted in April 2013 mentions the risk of trapped populations, albeit implicitly only outside the region, and recommends steps to address the issue.

Reviewing existing research on the links between climate change, environmental degradation and migration, the authors note that relocation, while questionably effective, “may nevertheless become a necessity in certain scenarios” such as the case of trapped communities.

“The EU should therefore consider supporting countries severely exposed to environmental stressors to assess the path of degradation and design specific preventive internal, or where necessary, international relocation measures when adaptation strategies can no longer be implemented,” states the working paper.

Ultimately, the situation where individuals, families, and indeed entire communities, find themselves unable to move out of harm’s way is not unique to the effects of climate change – it can be other natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions or human-induced crises like armed conflict.

The international community’s response to people moving in the face of such crises is most often based on giving them a status, such as “internally displaced persons”, “asylum seekers” or “refugees”.

But this would not be the appropriate response when people remain, argues Black.

For them, “the issue is not a lack of legal status – it’s a lack of options … Public policy needs to be geared around providing people with options, in my view, both ahead of disasters and in the immediate aftermath of disasters.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2/feed/ 5
Why Our Food Systems Need to Be More Nutrition-Smarthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/why-our-food-systems-need-to-be-more-nutrition-smart/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-our-food-systems-need-to-be-more-nutrition-smart http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/why-our-food-systems-need-to-be-more-nutrition-smart/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:19:26 +0000 Howarth Bouis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137667 Courtesy of Howarth Bouis

Courtesy of Howarth Bouis

By Howarth Bouis
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“We are especially distressed by the high prevalence and increasing numbers of malnourished children under five years of age in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, more than 2000 million people, mostly women and children, are deficient in one or more micronutrients…”

These words are from the Final Report of the International Conference on Nutrition that took place in December 1992 in Rome.The distress is felt most by the poor, whose response is to cut down on the more expensive micronutrient-rich foods while making sure the household gets by on stomach-filling staples.

Twenty-two years later, government representatives from around the world will again gather in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and will have to contend with the reality that despite reducing the percentage of people suffering from micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies, about the same absolute number of people – two billion – are still not getting the micronutrients that are essential for good health.

This is still too high a number; being deprived of essential micronutrients in the first thousand days from conception to a child’s second birthday can result in stunting, lowered IQ, and repeated bouts of illness that reduce lifelong productivity and keep generations in poverty and poor health.

So, today, we still face many of the same challenges as we did more than two decades ago. These have been further exacerbated by population growth, food price volatility and climate change, among other issues. Here are a few trends or factors that stand out today, and must be accounted for as we look to end hunger and malnutrition.

While population has grown, per capita incomes have increased in many countries. Staple food prices have fallen over the long run due to increased productivity from the Green Revolution, but non-staple food prices have risen. Thus, calories have become cheaper, but minerals and vitamins have become more expensive.

The distress is felt most by the poor, whose response is to cut down on the more expensive micronutrient-rich foods while making sure the household gets by on stomach-filling staples. To make matters worse, in recent years we’ve seen a disturbing trend where even the prices of key staple foods such as rice, wheat and maize that provide most of the global calories, have shot up.

Climate-induced changes and natural disasters will lead to more volatility in food production and, thus, price variability. The poorest households are least able to absorb shocks. As such, building resilience has emerged as a critical priority that requires greater alignment and collaboration with diverse partners to protect those who are most vulnerable from shocks.

One way to increase nutritional resilience is to make our food systems more nutrition-smart. Our food systems have to be calibrated to provide the greatest amount of nutrients per square foot of scarce land that can be produced sustainably, especially in the face of climate change.

This means growing more nutritious foods that include staple foods with enhanced micronutrient content that are proving efficacious in reducing micronutrient deficiencies. We have to build agricultural, and therefore dietary, diversity back into the system so that there is a ‘rebalancing’ of calories with micronutrients.

Being nutrition-smart means we also pay attention to growth in obesity, which today exists side by side with undernutrition.

The lessons learned in the past two decades show that there is no silver bullet. Integrated nutrition and public health interventions, and poverty alleviation social reforms are necessary to achieve good nutrition for all.

We have to more efficiently break down the silos between agriculture, nutrition and health food and health systems in order to improve people’s lives. The good news is that we have made significant strides. Twenty-two years ago, agricultural and nutrition scientists did not talk to each other very much. Now they do, and even more of that collaborative conversation and action are needed.

It pleases me greatly that global awareness has been building up over the past five years about how crucial nutrition is. The Copenhagen Consensus, a gathering every four years of top economists in the world, has twice put the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies at the top of their lists as the best use of public money, and have conservatively estimated a 59:1 dollar benefit-cost ratio.

I am heartened by global movements like Scaling Up Nutrition that are galvanising communities around the world to expand nutrition interventions that work, and by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge to eliminate hunger in our lifetime. As a global society, we cannot afford to let this momentum wane as other crises or trends command attention.

Achieving better nutrition is a multi-faceted endeavour. I have emphasised here the importance of making our food systems more nutrition-smart. And as the tagline for ICN2 states: better nutrition means better lives. There are of course complementary themes deserving of similar attention.

But this is what the delegates in Rome will have to tackle next week when, as the materials for the upcoming ICN2 suggest, coherence and collaboration must be built into any new frameworks and plans to improve nutrition. I look forward to being there, and to learning from the experience, the expertise and the insights of delegates from around the world.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/why-our-food-systems-need-to-be-more-nutrition-smart/feed/ 0
More Economic Equality Brings Greater Political Polarisation in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 05:54:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137654 The Sauce port industrial complex in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, where some 200 companies from different sectors will operate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Sauce port industrial complex in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, where some 200 companies from different sectors will operate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“If I had to choose today I would stay back home, I wouldn’t come to look for work here,” said Josefa Gomes, who 30 years ago moved from Serra Redonda, a small town in Brazil’s semiarid northeast, to the city of Rio de Janeiro, 2,400 km away.

She reached that conclusion as a result of the changes she has seen in her hometown, population 7,000, during visits to her family in recent years. “Everything has changed, now people have electricity, there’s work in the flour mills, shoe factories, or farming cooperatives,” she told IPS.

Besides, thanks to paved roads and buses that pass frequently, it only takes 40 minutes to reach Campina Grande, a city of around 400,000, from her town. “It used to take over an hour,” she said.

The economy of the northeast, Brazil’s poorest region, has been growing since the past decade at a pace much higher than the national average, which has been nearly stagnant since 2012, due to the slowdown in the traditional motor of the economy: the south.The northeast is enjoying strong economic growth that has reduced the gap with the most developed part of the country, the south and southeast. The progress made and the expectations of further advances strengthened regional support for Rousseff.

The southern state of São Paulo is in recession. Its industrial output accounted for over 31 percent of the national total in 2011, compared to 38 percent 10 years earlier, according to an Oct. 6 study by the National Industrial Confederation.

The 7.7 percentage points lost were distributed among other states, including the nine states of the northeast.

That trend has been exacerbated since last year by an industrial crisis whose epicentre is São Paulo. Brazil’s industrial production fell 2.9 percent in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

The country’s industrial decentralisation, added to other factors, has reduced the economic inequality between Brazil’s regions, at the expense of the traditional industrial centres of this Latin American powerhouse of 200 million people.

The dichotomy in the economic geography fuelled the opposite behavior of voters in Brazil’s recent elections. President Dilma Rousseff was reelected with 71.7 percent of the vote in the northeast in the Oct. 27 runoff.

But her triumph was threatened by a broad opposition majority in São Paulo, where 64.3 percent of voters backed her rival, the pro-business Aécio Neves.

The electoral divide in Brazil tends to be attributed to the government’s social programmes, especially Bolsa Familia, which have pulled some 36 million Brazilians out of poverty during the governments of the left-wing Workers Party led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva since 2003 and Rousseff since 2011.

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, with tanks to collect and store rainwater and make it potable, which form part of the small community infrastructure projects that have mushroomed in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, with tanks to collect and store rainwater and make it potable, which form part of the small community infrastructure projects that have mushroomed in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The northeast is enjoying strong economic growth that has reduced the gap with the most developed part of the country, the south and southeast. The progress made and the expectations of further advances strengthened regional support for Rousseff.

Bolsa Familia funnels some 440 million dollars a month to the northeast, where the monthly cash transfer is received by 6.5 million families – nearly half of the programme’s recipients nationwide.

But that is only one-sixth of what is received by the 8.8 million retirees and pensioners of the region, from the social security system, economist Cícero Péricles de Carvalho told IPS.

Moreover, of Brazil’s five geographic regions, the northeast generated the most formal sector jobs in the past few years. There are currently nearly nine million workers with contracts in the region – double the number at the start of the 21st century, he said.

“The number of formal sector jobs in the construction industry alone increased from 195,000 in 2003 to 650,000 today,” Carvalho said.

The greater number of formal sector jobs means better wages, which also rose thanks to the policy of increasing the minimum wage adopted by Lula and Rousseff, besides improved access to bank loans – all of which has driven up buying power and consumption.

“The additional income, also from scholarships and pensions, which doubled between 2003 and 2014, and the new jobs have fuelled demand tremendously, because the beneficiaries don’t save, they spend everything on consumption,” said Carvalho, a professor at the Federal University of Alagoas, a small state in the northeast.

The rise in consumption bolstered commerce, which has in turned driven the expansion of networks of supermarkets and new industries to meet the growing demand, like factories of construction materials, clothing and food.

Another reason for the expansion was the Growth Acceleration Programme, implemented since 2007 and consisting of a set of economic policies and investment and infrastructure projects ranging from small community endeavours to giant megaprojects like the diversion of the São Francisco river, which includes the construction of 700 km of channels and tunnels to carry water to 12 million people.

“That unexpected dynamic has generated economic development as well as social inclusion, with social gains that aren’t limited to income,” such as the increase in access to electricity through the programme “Light for all” or the expansion in health and education coverage, Carvalho said.

Nevertheless, living standards in the northeast are still far below the national average, and the difference has only been reduced slowly, also because the region’s economic growth has been concentrated in the coastal areas, he added.

Deindustrialisation

Brazil’s process of deindustrialisation has also affected the northeast, but to a lesser degree than in São Paulo and with better prospects for the future, another local economist, João Policarpo Lima of the Federal University of Pernambuco, told IPS.

There are large-scale projects that will accelerate industrial expansion when they come fully onstream, he said. They include a refinery, a petrochemical plant and the world’s biggest Fiat assembly plant, being built in the northeast state of Pernambuco, which has grown the most in the past few years.

Large companies have set up shop in two port-industrial complexes: Suape in Pernambuco, and Pecém in the neighbouring state of Ceará. Suape also attracted more than 100 companies, including a major shipyard and the biggest flour mill in Latin America, besides the refinery and petrochemical plant.

Meanwhile, in São Paulo the strong opposition vote and the vehement rejection of the Workers’ Party, Lula and Rousseff were connected to the economic losses.

In protests in the city of São Paulo before and after the elections, demonstrators chanted increasingly hate-filled slogans against the “nordestinos” for “selling” their vote in exchange for Bolsa Familia, which provides an average monthly stipend of 70 dollars.

The industrial setback was especially felt in the sugarcane industry, which produces sugar and ethanol and represents 80 percent of the agricultural economy of São Paulo, said businessman Maurilio Biagi Filho of Ribeirão Preto, a city known as the “sugarcane capital”.

“The sector is caught up in a serious crisis that has given rise to a sense of desperation and will take many years to overcome, even if measures are adopted to bring about a recovery,” he told IPS.

The business community and analysts blame the crisis on gasoline price controls implemented by Rousseff to curb inflation. Ethanol, the cost of which is rising, has been unable to compete with the subsidised fossil fuel prices.

The situation was aggravated with the drop in sugar prices since 2010 and this year’s drought, which led to water rationing in more than 130 towns and cities in the state of São Paulo.

Dozens of sugar mills went under or suspended production in the past few years, while many others accepted legal accords to avoid insolvency proceedings or were purchased by foreign corporations. An estimated 300,000 jobs were lost.

The magnitude of the crisis and the perception that it is largely due to the government “influenced voters (in São Paulo), especially in the interior,” Biagi concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil/feed/ 0