Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Killing of Aid Workers Threatens Humanitarian Response in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:53:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142247 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

With 21 million Yemeni civilians caught in the grips of a conflict that has been escalating since March, the killing of two local aid workers Wednesday could worsen their misery, as a major humanitarian organisation considers the future of its operations in parts of the war-torn country.

Both victims were employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and had been traveling in the northern governorate of Amran, between the Saada province and Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, when a gunman reportedly opened fire on the convoy.

One worker died at the scene; his colleague was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his injuries soon after.

In a statement released earlier today, Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, condemned “in the strongest possible terms what appears to have been the deliberate targeting of our staff,” and expressed sympathy with the families and loved ones of his colleagues.

“It is premature for us at this point to determine the impact of this appalling incident on our operations in Yemen,” Grand said. “At this time, we want to collect ourselves as a team and support each other in processing this incomprehensible act.”

This is not the first time in recent months that the ICRC has come under attack.

On Aug. 25 gunmen stormed the organisation’s offices in the southern seaport city of Aden, held staff at gunpoint and made off with cash, cars and other equipment – marking the 11th time ICRC staff and premises have been compromised.

The humanitarian group has been providing food, water and medical supplies to civilians caught between Houthi rebels, and fighters loyal to former President Abu Mansur Hadi who are supported by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Fighting has now spread to 21 out of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Over 4,500 people are dead and over 80 percent of the country’s population of 26.7 million is in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes have been largely responsible for civilian deaths and most of the property damage, though rights groups like Amnesty International say both sides in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

United Nations agencies and other humanitarian groups are struggling to meet the needs of civilians, a task made harder by the Aug. 20 bombing by Saudi military jets of the Red Sea port, a major entry point for relief supplies.

Large swathes of the country are virtually inaccessible. Last week, the ICRC was forced to relocate its staff in Aden owing to the attack on its offices, and today the organisation told the BBC that it would halt movement of its staff “as a precaution”.

Such restrictions on aid imperil huge groups of people, who are almost entirely reliant on the international community for food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Some 12 million people are food insecure and 20 million people have no access to clean drinking water.

A top U.N. relief official called Wednesday’s shooting “a despicable act” that “proves once again the urgent need for all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect the lives and rights of civilians and provide aid workers with a safe environment to work in.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Urban Farming Mushrooms in Africa Amid Food Deficitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:28:42 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142235 Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

There is a scramble for unoccupied land in Africa, but this time it is not British, Portuguese, French or other colonialists racing to occupy the continent’s vacant land – it is the continent’s urban dwellers fast turning to urban farming amid the rampant food shortages that have not spared them.

Inadequate wages have aggravated the situation of many, like Agness Samwenje who lives in Harare’s high density Mufakose suburb, and they have found that turning to urban farming is one way of supplementing their supply of food.

Samwenje, a pre-school teacher who took over an open piece of land to cultivate in vicinity to a farm, told IPS that “this mini-farming here is a back-up means to feed my family because the 200 dollars I earn monthly is not enough to support my family after becoming the breadwinner following the death of my husband four years ago, leaving me to care for our three school-going children.”“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs” –Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga

“I now spend very little money buying food because crops from my small field here in the city supplement my food,” she added.

For others, like jobless 34-year-old Silveira Sinorita from Mozambique who now lives in the Zimbabwean town of Mutare, urban farming has become their job as they battle to feed their families.

“Without employment, I have found that farming here in town is an answer to my food woes at home because I grow my own potatoes, beans, vegetables and fresh maize cobs, whose surplus I then sell,” Sinorita told IPS.

Pushed to the edge by mounting food deficits, urban farmers in other African countries have even gone beyond mere crop farming. In cities such as Kampala in Uganda and Yaoundé in Cameroon, many urban households are raising livestock, including poultry, dairy cattle and pigs.

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa’s towns and cities at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 800 million people around the world practise urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity, although the U.N. agency also warns that the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion globally, with the “urban poor being particularly vulnerable.”

However, urban farming in Africa is often met with opposition from the authorities where land is owned by local municipalities and agricultural experts say that opposing it makes no sense in the face of growing food insecurity.

“Poverty is not sparing even people living in the cities because jobs are getting scarce on the continent and as a result, farming in cities is fast becoming a common trend as people battle to supplement their foods, this despite urban farming being prohibited in towns and cities here,” government agricultural officer Norman Hwengwere told IPS. Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

FAO has also reported that Africa’s market gardens are the most threatened by the continent’s growth spurt because they are typically not regulated or supported by governments, and a recent study has called for governments to become more involved.

In a 2011 research study titled ‘Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers’, Anna Plyushteva, a PhD student at University College London, argues that greater government involvement is needed for urban agriculture to emerge out of marginality and illegality and deliver greater environmental and social benefits.

“Without official regulation, urban farming can create some serious problems. At present, informal farmers and their produce are exposed to contamination with organic and non-organic pollutants, which is a serious threat to public health,” said Plyushteva.

For independent Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga, the more people flock to cities, the more pressure they add to the limited resources there.

“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs,” Nakalonga told IPS.

“Often when people migrate from rural areas anywhere here in Africa, they cling to their agricultural heritage of practices through urban agriculture which you see many practising in towns today to evade hunger,” Nakalonga added.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, for example, urban gardens in some communities resemble those found in the country’s rural areas from which people migrated.

Despite the opposition elsewhere, some African cities are nevertheless supporting the urban farming trend. The Cape Town local authority in South Africa, for example, introduced its first urban agriculture policy document in 2007, focusing on the importance of urban agriculture for poverty alleviation and job creation.

As FAO projects that there will be 35 million urban farmers in Africa by 2020, it is supporting programmes in some countries to capitalise on the benefits. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, FAO’s Urban Horticulture Programme is building on the skills of rural farmers who have come to the cities.

The FAO programme in DRC started in response to the country’s massive rural-to-urban exodus following a five-year conflict and now helps local urban farmers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables each year, while providing employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners in the country’s towns and cities.

The country’s urban farmers sell 90 percent of what they produce in urban markets and supermarkets, according to FAO, helping to feed a swelling urban population as Congolese flee the countryside in search of security.

Meanwhile, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, various groups and agencies have helped popularise the “vertical farm in a bag” concept in which city dwellers create their own gardens using tall sacks filled with soil from which plant life grows.

With hunger hitting both rural and urban African dwellers hard, an increasing number of them believe that urban farming is the way to go.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Stop Food Waste – Cook It and Eat Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:39:32 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142201 Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
LEEDS, England, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

A new grassroots initiative born in the northern England city of Leeds has set itself the ambitious goal of ending food waste, once and for all.

Founded in December 2013, ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP), is the brainchild of chef Adam Smith.

It consists of a network of ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafés where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals that people can enjoy and give back what they can and wish, be it money, time or surplus food.

TRJFP is run on a volunteer basis through customers’, crowdfunding and private donations and with only a handful of paid positions at living wage level.

Sitting at a table in the first café opened by TRJFP, The Armley Junk-Tion in the struggling suburb of Armley, Leeds, 29-year-old Smith is still infectiously enthusiastic about it all.

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s something that has a positive impact,” he told IPS. “We believe that we can empower people and communities and inspire change across the whole system through the organic growth of these cafés.”

In under two years, TRJFP has grown into a worldwide network of 110 cafés: 14 in Leeds, one of which in a primary school, 40 across the United Kingdom and the rest in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, South Africa or France.

“So far,” explained Smith, “the Armley Junk-Tion alone has cooked 12,000 meals for 10,000 people using food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.” As a network, in 18 months it has fed 90,000 people 60,000 meals and saved 107,000 tonnes of food from needless destruction.

TRJFP volunteers are out every day and at all hours intercepting food from households, food businesses, allotments, food banks, wholesalers, supermarkets and supermarket bins.“The [U.K.] government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people. We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money“ – Adam Smith, founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’

TRJFP has also been able to secure surplus chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain and part of the food ”waste” generated by local Morrisons supermarket branches.

“We ignore expiry dates or damage and use our own judgment on whether we think the food is fit or safe for human consumption,” said Smith.

The number of tonnes of food intercepted, though, pales in comparison with the amount of food that is still wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food wastage globally at one-third of all food produced – that is 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This means that one in four calories produced is never consumed. On the other hand, FAO also reports that 795 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.

‘Food waste’ is often described as a “scandal” and yet top-down actions seeking to put an end to it still treat the above statistics as two separate problems requiring two separate solutions – recycle more in rich countries and produce more food in and for developing countries – that effectively leave a faulty system intact and the interests of a multi-billion dollar industry unchallenged.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’, “all the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  

But our short-sightedness and unwillingness to change our habits are laid bare in laws such as the one approved last May by the French parliament. In France, large supermarkets will be forbidden from throwing away unsold food and forced to give it to charity or farmers.

Although hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against food waste, critics such as food waste activists ‘Les Gars’pilleurs’ say that such laws only circle around the problem, offering a quick fix. For starters, supermarkets are hardly the only culprits. For example, as the U.K. charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, they produce less than two percent of U.K. food waste, while private households are responsible for roughly 47 percent of it and producers 27 percent.

“The government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people,” Smith cut short. “We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money.“

As a grassroots and independent initiative, TRJFP does not categorise food waste as an environmental, economic or social malaise. It tackles it holistically and works to educate the public but also lobbies ministers and parliamentarians to develop relevant policies.

“We have been to Westminster (seat of the U.K. parliament) a few times already to talk about this problem. There are many interests at stake but we will keep working until there is no more waste,” Smith said, adding that he hopes to prepare a waste-food lunch for members of parliament.

In Armley, the café fills up for lunch. On the menu are delicacies such as meat stew, steak and lentil soup. The clientele represents a cross-section of society that normally travels on parallel paths. Hipsters, homeless, professionals or unemployed all eat the same food, sit at the same tables and enjoy the same service. No referrals needed, no stigma attached, as often happens with other such services.

Richard, a recovering alcoholic, has been having lunch at The Armley Junk-Tion for a few months. “The café has been a real focus point for the community to come and eat together irrespective of background,” he told IPS. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat. There’s always something on the menu for everybody.”

For 36-year-old Paul, with a history of mental illness, TRJFP offers an important safety net not guaranteed by social services. “Where I stay, my cooking facilities are restricted to a microwave. Due to cut backs and lack of support services, the only help I get is coming to places like this,” he told IPS.

Nigel Stone, one of the café’s volunteer co-directors, had no doubt the idea would catch on. “It is such an unbelievably common sense solution and the best part of it is how it brings the community together, especially in times of need.”

Slowly but steadily, TRJFP is changing norms around food waste and hopes to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to waste food. First off, though, they are proving that we must stop calling it waste, it just isn’t, it’s perfectly good food that every day we decide to throw away.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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OPEC Fund Supports UNIDO in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:18:26 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142160 By Jaya Ramachandran
VIENNA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has agreed to give the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) a grant in support of a project aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of the shrimp value chain in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.

OFID is the development finance institution established by the member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1976 as a collective channel of aid to the developing countries.

The grant, which amounts to 300,000 dollars, aims at co-financing a project worth close to 900,000 dollars. OFID Director-General, Suleiman J. Al-Herbish and UNIDO Director General Li Yong, signed the agreement in Austria’s capital, where the two organisations are based.

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

Al-Herbish said that the project “will support the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the LAC region through the promotion of more resource efficient, environment friendly and socially equitable fish farming and processing practices.”

It will also contribute to poverty reduction efforts through the creation of direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities, as well as improved food and nutrition security, he added.

UNIDO Director General Li pointed out that the shrimp farming sector represented an important source of income in countries such as Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua.

“However, in most of these countries there is a need to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the sector and its compliance with international quality and environmental standards.”

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, has been a vital source of economic growth in developing countries. Shrimp farming represents 15 percent of the total value of the fishery products internationally traded in 2011. Ecuador and Mexico are currently among the largest producers in the sector at regional level.

The agreement was signed on Aug. 25, within four weeks of OFID and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) signing a co-financing agreement to jointly promote development and economic growth in the LAC region through the expansion of trade financing to banks in the region.

According to the agreement, OFID and IDB will build on the existing Trade Finance Facilitation Programme (TFFP) to provide lines of credit to commercial banks in the LAC region to broaden the sources of trade finance available for LAC importing and exporting companies and support their internationalisation.

In support of global and intraregional integration through trade, this agreement will further strengthen OFID’s long-standing partnership with the IDB and widen OFID’s presence in the trade finance market in the LAC region, OFID said in a press release.

OFID works in cooperation with developing country partners and the international donor community to stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty in all disadvantaged regions of the world.

It does this by providing financing to build essential infrastructure, strengthen social services delivery and promote productivity, competitiveness and trade.

According to OFID, its work is “people-centred, focusing on projects that meet basic needs – such as food, energy, clean water and sanitation, healthcare and education – with the aim of encouraging self-reliance and inspiring hope for the future.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Change Shrinking Uganda’s Lakes and Fishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:04:31 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142100 Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is reducing the size of several species of fish on lakes in Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries, with a negative impact on the livelihoods of millions people who depend on fishing for food and income.

Studies conducted on inland lakes in Uganda, including Lake Victoria which is shared by three East African countries, indicate that indigenous fish species have shrunk in size due to an increase in temperatures in the water bodies.

“What we are seeing in Lake Victoria and other lakes is a shift in the composition of fish. In the past, we had a dominance of bigger fish but now we are seeing the fish stocks dominated by small fish. This means they are the ones which are adapting well to the changed conditions,” said Dr Jackson Efitre, a lecturer in fisheries management and aquatic sciences at Uganda’s Makerere University.

“So if that condition goes on, he added, “the question is would we want to see our fish population dominated by small fish with little value?”

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive … If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death” – Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO)
In Uganda, the fisheries sector accounts for 2.5 percent of the national budget and 12.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.2 million people, generates over 100 million dollars in exports and provides about 50 percent of the dietary proteins of Ugandans.

Efitre was one of the researchers for a study on ‘Application of policies to address the influence of climate change on inland aquatic and riparian ecosystems, fisheries and livelihoods”, which examined the influence of climate variability and change on fisheries resources and livelihoods using lakes Wamala and Kawi in the Victoria and Kyoga lake basins as case studies.

It also looked at the extent to which existing policies can be applied to address the impacts of and any challenges associated with climate change.

The study’s findings showed that temperatures around the two lakes had always varied but had increased consistently by 0.02-0.03oC annually since the 1980s, and that rainfall had deviated from historical averages and on Lake Wamala – although not Lake Kawi – had generally been above average since the 1980s.

According to the study, these findings are consistent with those reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2014 for the East African region.

Mark Olokotum, one of the study’s researchers, climate changes have affected the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

“These are fishers who depend on the environment. You either increase on the number of times you fish to get more fish or get more fishing gear to catch more fish. And once that happens, you spend more time fishing, earn much less although the price is high, and there are no fish so people have resorted to eating what is available,” he said.

Olokotum told IPS that the water balance of most aquatic systems in Uganda is determined by rainfall and temperature through evaporation.

He said that about 80 percent of the water gain in Lake Wamala was through rainfall while 86 percent of the loss was through evaporation, resulting in a negative water balance and the failure of the lake to retain its historical water levels.

“Therefore, although rainfall in the East African region is expected to increase as a result of climate change, this gain may be offset by increased evaporation associated with increases in temperature unless the increases in rainfall outweigh the loss through evaporation,” Olokotum explained.

These changes have made life more difficult for people like Clement Opedum and his eight sons who have traditionally depended on lakes as a source of food and income.

Opedum’s living has always come from the waters of Lake Wamala. In the past, sales of tilapia fish from the lake to neighbouring districts were brisk; and some would be bought by traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustaining his family and other fishermen.

Those days are now gone. Over the years, the lake has steadily retreated from its former shores, leaving Opedum and his neighbours high and dry, and faced with the prospect that the lake could vanish entirely.

Charles Lugambwa, another fisherman in the same area, has been obliged to turn to farming, and he now grows yams, sweet potatoes and beans on land that was previously under the waters of the lake.

Lugambwa told IPS that apart from tilapia fish, other species have started disappearing from the lake in 30 or so years he has lived there.  “In 1994, the lake dried up completely but came back in 1998 following heavy rains,” he told IPS. “We used to catch very big tilapia but now they are quite tiny even though they are adult fish.”

Scientists and researchers argue that the causes of lake shrinking include water evaporation, increased cultivation on banks, cutting down of trees and destruction of wetlands, while the reduction in the size of tilapia has been linked to increased lake water temperature as a result of global warming.

Dr Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, senior research officer at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFFIRI) told IPS that the response to the impacts of climate change in Uganda had been concentrated on crops, livestock and forestry with almost no concern for the fisheries sector.

“It is high time government took the bold step to bring aquatic ecosystems and fisheries fully on board in its climate change responses,” he said.

According to Ogutu-Ohwayo, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the East African Community Policy on Climate Change commit states to building capacity, generating knowledge, and identifying adaptation and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, however these have barely been implemented.

Ogutu-Ohwayo who was part of the lake study research team, told IPS that Uganda has a water policy which provides for protection and management of water resources, and “we must apply these policies to manage the water resources of lakes Wamala, Kawi and other lakes through integrated approaches such as protecting wetlands, lake shores and river banks and controlling water extraction.”

Like other East African nations, Uganda has relied heavily on capture fisheries, or wild fisheries, with a tendency to marginalise aquaculture as far as resource allocation and manpower development is concerned.

With climate change leading to a decline in the size and stocks of wild fish and capture fisheries, fisheries experts are saying wild fish and capture fisheries from lakes alone can no longer meet the demand for fish, both for local consumption and export.

Fish processing plants around Lake Victoria, for example, are now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, while some have closed down.

Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), told IPS that aquaculture could be used as one of the adaptation measures to help communities that have depended on fish to supplement capture fisheries.

He noted, however, that the development of aquaculture in most Eastern African countries is constrained by low adoption of appropriate technologies, inadequate investment in research and inadequate aquaculture extension services.

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive and that is why we are asking government to invest in aquaculture,” said Rutaisire. ”If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death,” he warned.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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UAE Wins Hearts and Minds at World Exhibition in Milanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:44:36 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142091 Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

By Jaya Ramachandran
MILAN, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

She only turned nine last June. But Mahra Mustafa has become a celebrity at the Expo Milan. She stars as Sara in ‘The Family Tree’, a short film on the UAE’s heritage being screened at the United Arab Emirates pavilion. Sara is in fact the face of young, dynamic and innovative Emirates.

Thousands of Italians and foreign visitors, who throng the UAE pavilion day in and day out, are enchanted by the 12-metre tall sinuous rippled walls that provide an unforgettable experience and give an idea of what the Emirates would offer during the Dubai Expo in 2020.“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities.” -- Nawal Al Hosany

The Dubai Expo from Oct 20, 2020 through Apr 10, 2021, will launch the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebration and “serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for the coming decades”, according to information posted on its website.

The organisers proudly announce: “This will be the first time that a World Expo is staged in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.”

While Expo Milan from May 1 to Oct 31 is focussing on ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, Dubai’s World Expo will have ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ as its theme, echoing the powerful spirit of partnership and co-operation that has driven the UAE’s success in pioneering new paths of development and innovation, the organisers say.

“Through this theme, Expo 2020 Dubai will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise around shared challenges during a World Expo of unprecedented global scope,” the organisers add.

As compared to Expo Milan, which expects to welcome 20 million visitors during six months, Expo 2020 Dubai awaits 25 million visits, 70 per cent from abroad – if only to feel and experience Sara’s ‘The Family Tree’.

“People got so excited seeing movies on Dubai, the feedback we got was that people want to visit before Expo 2020,” ‘The National’, UAE’s English-language publication, quoted Amal Al Kuwaiti, a contract engineer with the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company who worked as a volunteer at the UAE pavilion in Milan.

The architects worked closely with the UAE’s National Media Council to create the pavilion and connect it to the Milan theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, notes The National.

“Many were surprised to see the country with not much water, how people searched for food. Then suddenly they see videos of the Burj Khalifa (a skyscraper in Dubai) and they are thrilled. Even people who have been to Dubai long ago want to see the changes,” he added.

“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities,” Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, told The National newspaper. He was involved in building the UAE pavilion.

Describing the highlights of the ‘The Family Tree’, the Gulf News writes: Sara is transported back in time, during the generation of her grandparents. Sara gets to live and witness what life was like before modernisation and development in the area, living in the harsh desert conditions, facing many challenges such as finding food and water, and dealing with sandstorms and wild animals.

“The movie’s special effects, story, and professional direction is on par with any Hollywood major production,” claims the Gulf News with some justification.

It is not only the film but also Sara’s rap song that ties in to the Milan Expo theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life: “We have land and food and energy/The sun, the sand and the big blue sea/The people, the animals/I’m beginning to see/Are all interconnected like a tapestry . . .”

The song is for sale on iTunes and the proceeds are going to victims of Nepal’s earthquakes.

When the film The Family Tree ends, visitors are invited to switch to an interactive  ‘Future Talk’, with the presentation being delivered by Sara. The main message of the talk is to encourage people to live their lives in a more sustainable and energy-friendly manner, so that we can have a better future in feeding the planet.

The UAE pavilion also highlights the importance of date palms, a major component of Emirati culture and tradition. The exhibition, ‘The Secret Life of Date Palms’, informs about the date palm features, its form, fruit, hydration, metamorphosis, shade and shadow. As part of the exhibition visitors also get to experience and see the date palms for themselves, with an oasis garden and date palm trees present at the pavilion.

Walking along the sinuous rippled walls, visitors pass by 12 media cubes. These refer to 12 challenges the UAE faces in respect of land, energy, water and food. Then follow the 12 media cubes with 12 solutions. One of the challenges the Emirates face is that it barely gets any rain, and so the solution in providing clean drinking water to its population is through new methods of desalinated seawater using renewable energy.

The media cubes also offer visitors an insight into the UAE and its culture, with five short Discovery films about the UAE. ‘Flavors of the Emirates’ is a short film about the traditional and cultural foods of the UAE.

Another short film, “Helping Feed the Planet”, touches on the UAE’s generous contribution in giving aid to 140 countries around the world, with the short movie going to Ethiopia where schoolchildren are provided with healthy food thanks to a programme funded and organised by Dubai Cares.

Emiratis acting as volunteers and ambassadors at the pavilion are also present to help guide and further explain the culture and history of the UAE, making the tour as interactive as possible for visitors.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142079

Nora Happel interviews H.E. Alexandru Cujba, Secretary-General of the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD) and Director-General of the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC).

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

Next month, the South-South Awards will be taking place for the fifth time, honouring the achievements and contributions of heads of state and government, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society in promoting sustainable development in the Global South.

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

2015 is a special year in many respects, with the U.N. celebrating its 70th anniversary and U.N. member states concluding their work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The South-South Awards, on Sep. 26, are going to be held in support of these major events that will shape the new development agenda for the next 15 years.

The South-South Awards are perhaps the most prominent example of the many development programmes designed and implemented by the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) to support U.N. development efforts, exchange knowledge and best practices in the area of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation and build partnerships between governments from developing countries and private sector companies.

Launched in 2010 during the 16th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation against the backdrop of chronic under-coverage of the Global South, IOSSC has started with the news programme “South-South News” and since moved into project development to expand its practice areas into the fields of business development and social development.

Last year, the organisation launched the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD), an umbrella structure supporting its different activities and also, in particular, the South-South Awards.

In an interview with IPS, SS-SCSD Secretary-General and IOSSC Director-General H.E. Alexander Cujba, former Permanent Representative of Moldova to the United Nations and former Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, shared some insights on the 2015 South-South Awards."We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements... but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development."

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: This year, the MDGs will be replaced by the SDGs. This process has been reflected in the theme for the 2015 South-South Awards, which is “From MDGs to SDGs: Supporting poverty reduction, education, and humanitarian efforts.”

Will the 2015 South-South Awards be different from previous ones due to the important events happening this year such as the adoption of the SDGs, first of all, but also for instance the 70th anniversary of the U.N.?

A: This is the fifth year that we organise the South-South Awards and I would say that this year will be both a continuation of our previous ceremonies as well as a different event because, as you rightly mention, we conclude the MDGs and we are moving to a new agenda, the post-2015 development agenda.

So while previously we were recognising achievements of the member states in specific areas that were linked to specific MDGs, this year we want to emphasise the achievements of member states in implementing all eight MDGs.

Of course, results differ and not only results of the different countries and regions, but also results in different MDGs. I think that undoubtedly, MDG no. 1, combating poverty and hunger, was a major MDG. So therefore, this year, we partner with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and our traditional supporter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in order to emphasise the achievements of U.N. member states and developing countries specifically with regard to MDG no. 1.

Apart from that, we also use this opportunity – because it is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. – to highlight the role that the U.N. had over the last 70 years not only in the area of preserving peace and security but also in promoting development. At a time when many scholars, politicians, experts discuss the creation and the need for the United Nations in 1945, we see that now the U.N. has to bring a new impulse to the development of member states, not only preserving security and peace, but also supporting the sustainable development of its member states.

Q: What are the main objectives of the South-South Awards? Can you tell me about some of the results of previous South-South Awards?

A: Working with different missions here at the U.N., we learn that small countries, particularly least developed countries, have their own positive results and achievements that frequently are not known except by the diplomatic world, except by the U.N.

Therefore, in previous years, we wanted to highlight specifically these small but extremely important results for those developing countries. That’s why every year we were working with our co-organisers in order to identify the best practices and achievements of those developing states in different specific areas.

This year, however, we want to emphasise the overall implementation of the MDGs. It is a good opportunity for us to highlight the congregation of efforts in order to achieve those noble goals that were adopted in 2000.

Q: How are the winners of the South-South Awards selected and which criteria have been most relevant this year in choosing the winners?

A: We have learned from other awards that were presented by different U.N. agencies. They have some specific criteria that are linked to the work, mission and goals of the U.N. agencies and structures that co-organise the respective events.

In our case we want to emphasise the results of the implementation of the MDGs but also the positive examples of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. As countries from different continents differ by size, resources and achievements, it is hard to compare the results achieved by these different countries.

On the other hand, we put emphasis on both the difference and unity of these countries. As I said, sometimes we don’t know what was achieved in for example Lesotho or Costa Rica or Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world. So therefore we use the database and the statistics of major U.N. organisations.

This year we used in particular the MDG report that was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat and especially the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). We used the Food Insecurity Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other related agencies and of course we referred to the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organisation.

We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements by number of population raised from hunger or by number of children going to school, but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development.

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

A: The South-South Awards ceremony is traditionally organised prior to the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. We invite heads of delegations that attend the General Debate and also the heads of the diplomatic missions, permanent missions to the U.N. and consulates in New York.

Amongst our participants are also high-level officials from the U.N. and from inter-governmental organisations that are part of the U.N. system. We also have CEOs of major corporations that are collaborating and working in the developing world. We have celebrities and civil society leaders. Our mission is to bring together all stakeholders that are part of development.

Right now, we have received confirmation from numerous heads of state and government that are coming to New York to attend the Summit on the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the General Debate. This year, we will therefore have a very diverse high-level participation with a total of around 800 guests expected.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the 2015 South-South Awards?

A: We hope that we will be able to emphasise the achievements, big and small, but important for the developing countries in implementing the MDGs and moving towards a new post-2015 development agenda. We want these lessons to be shared as widely as possible and be transferred to other countries.

We have all these good examples. We now have to learn from those positive experiences of developing and least developed states. I sincerely hope that our participants will have a good experience, enjoy the awards and that we will be able to continue our cooperation and our mission which is to bring together different stakeholders with the goal of supporting developing states and development initiatives.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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U.N. Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:16:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142073 The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

Aid groups say Monday’s bombing of the Houthi rebel-controlled Red Sea port by Saudi military jets has greatly worsened the risk of continued suffering, since the port served as the main entry point for shipments of humanitarian supplies.

In a statement published shortly after the airstrikes, Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage at Hodeida but we can’t lose a day; time is running out for Yemen’s children who are already at risk of starvation, disease, and abuse.”

He said there are already 5.9 million children going hungry, 624,000 displaced and about 7.3 million sick and wounded kids who are not receiving medical attention.

Even as civilians’ needs multiply, funding for the humanitarian response remains slow.

U.N. agencies say they have only received 282 million dollars for the response plan, just 18 percent of the 1.6-billion-dollar sum requested. Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge of 274 million dollars it will only bring funding up to 33 percent of the total required to adequately meet the crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday its operations, too, are “grossly underfunded”; the agency has received just 16 percent of an urgent 182.6-million-dollar funding appeal.

The scale and rapid escalation of the conflict has much of the international community stunned. President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said after a three-day visit to Yemen earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the situation for civilians, which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Having witnessed the destruction first-hand he added in a press interview on Aug. 19, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

O’Brien described the southern port city of Aden as a “shattered” metropolis, “where unexploded ordnance litter the streets and buildings”; while the city of Sana’a is pock-marked with craters left by airstrikes.

While humanitarian groups struggle to provide life-saving supplies, human rights watchdogs say the combination of Saudi-coalition-led airstrikes from above and fighting between pro- and anti Houthi armed groups on the ground have put civilians in an impossible situation.

A new Amnesty International report documenting what the organisation calls a “gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction” suggests that unlawful attacks by all parties may amount to war crimes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan Falters in the Face of Intensifying Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:40:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142041 This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the number of civilians impacted by the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan rises along with the fighting, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded, hungry and displaced.

The first half of 2015 has seen “record high levels” of civilian casualties, the United Nations relief agency said Tuesday, with civilian deaths touching 1,592 and total non-combatant casualties standing at over 4,900 – a one-percent increase compared to the number of casualties in the same period in 2014.

Fresh fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab and Nangarhar are indicative of the geographic spread of the conflict, while tensions and sporadic clashes all across the central regions are forcing huge numbers of civilians from their homes.

An estimated 103,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in 2015 alone, including from locations hitherto untouched by forced population movements including Badakshan, Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar and Badgis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its mid-year review released on Aug. 18.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen.

Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering.

Funding for every single relief “cluster” identified by OCHA is failing to keep pace with civilians’ needs. So far, the U.N. has received only 3.5 million dollars of the required 40 million dollars for provision of emergency housing, while funding for food security and health are falling short by 56 million and 29 millions dollars respectively.

Far more refugees have returned to the country, primarily from Pakistan, in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, with 43,695 returnees as of July 2015 compared to 9,323 in 2014.

OCHA noted, “Overall return and deportee rates of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan stand at 319,818 people. At the same time, over 73,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan, which is on average six times higher per day than in 2014.”

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.

As is always the case, providing adequate water and sanitation facilities is one of the top priorities of the humanitarian plan in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, but though the U.N. has put forward a figure of 25 million dollars for this purpose, only 15 million dollars are currently available.

“An increase in people requiring humanitarian assistance coupled with insufficient funding for food security agencies, particularly WFP [the World Food Programme], means that programmes for conflict IDPs, vulnerable returnees, refugees and malnourished children are all seriously under-resourced and in some cases have been terminated,” the report revealed.

Data on affected populations are believed to be incomplete owing largely to inaccessibility of the most heavily embattled regions, prompting U.N. officials to warn that the real number of people in need of critical, lifesaving services and supplies could be even higher than current estimates.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that civilian casualties in the first six months of 2015 saw an increase of 43 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

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Kudos for Bolivia’s Success in Reducing Coca Cultivationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:58:36 +0000 Ronald Joshua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142038 Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

By Ronald Joshua
VIENNA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has praised Bolivia for reducing coca bush cultivation for the fourth year in a row. According to the latest Coca Crop Monitoring Survey, released Tuesday in La Paz, coca cultivation declined by 11 per cent in 2014, compared to the previous year.

The surface under cultivation declined from 23,000 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 20,400 ha last year, hitting the bottom since UNODC began its monitoring survey in 2003.

At the Survey’s launch, UNODC’s Representative in Bolivia, Antonino De Leo, praised the Bolivian Government’s efforts for the continued reduction of the coca crop area during the last four years. De Leo highlighted that, between 2010 and 2014, “the surface under coca cultivation declined by 10,600 ha, which represents a reduction of more than a third.”

Through the use of satellite imaging and field monitoring, reductions in the two main areas of cultivation were detected. The regions of Los Yungas de La Paz and Trópico de Cochabamba together constitute 99 per cent of the areas under coca cultivation in the country.

Between 2013 and 2014, these two areas reduced their surface under coca cultivation by 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, from 15,700 to 14,200 ha and from 7,100 to 6,100 ha. In the Norte de La Paz provinces the cultivation area decreased from 230 to 130 ha, reports the survey.

There are 22 protected areas in Bolivia – accounting for 16 per cent of the country’s surface – where coca crops are forbidden by Bolivian law. In 2014, there were 214 ha of coca crops detected within six protected areas, of which 59 per cent were in Carrasco National Park.

In February 2013, Bolivia re-acceded to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation on coca leaf. This reservation allows the chewing, consumption and use of the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes, as well as its growth, trade and possession to the extent necessary for these licit purposes.

The United Nations Information Service (UNIS) from Vienna said: “The current national legislation, which dates back to 1988, states that the area under coca cultivation must not exceed 12,000 ha. In the last years, the Bolivian government delineated the zones where coca crops are allowed within the three coca cultivation areas of the country: the Yungas de La Paz, Trópico de Cochabamba and Norte de La Paz provinces.”

The reduction of the surface under coca cultivation in 2014 is mainly explained by the Government’s efforts to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas – known as ´rationalization´ – and to eradicate coca crops in prohibited areas, UNIS added.

A dialogue-based process led by the Government saw the participation of coca growing unions in the implementation of the national strategy to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas. Another important factor has been the abandonment of old coca fields in the Yungas de La Paz province, due to the drastic reduction of their coca crop yields.

Between 2013 and 2014, the area eradicated declined by two per cent at the national level, from 11,407 to 11,144 ha. Meanwhile at the provincial level, some 7,400 ha were eradicated in the region of Trópico de Cochabamba, around 3,200 ha in the Yungas de La Paz and Norte de La Paz provinces, and 526 ha in the Santa Cruz and Beni regions.

The potential coca leaf production in the country was estimated to be 33,100 tonnes in 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, the total value of the coca leaf production declined from 294 million dollars to 282 million. The total value of coca leaf production in 2014 represented 0.9 per cent of Bolivia’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.8 per cent of its agricultural sector Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The amount of coca leaf traded in the two authorised markets – Villa Fátima and Sacaba – was around 19,800 tonnes in 2014, equivalent to 60 per cent of the total production of coca leaf. Ninety-three per cent of the legally traded coca leaf was marketed in Villa Fátima, and the other seven per cent in Sacaba. The average weighted price of coca leaf in these authorised markets increased six per cent, from 7.8 dollars per kg in 2013 to 8.3 dollars per kg in 2014.

Download the full 2014 Coca Survey in the Plurinational State of Bolivia (in Spanish)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Time to Work Out a Plan C for Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 16:14:04 +0000 Pavlos Georgiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142029 Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

By Pavlos Georgiadis
ATHENS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Just over a month ago, Greek citizens were asked to go to the polls for a referendum that posed the country with an unprecedented existential dilemma and challenged the EU with the possibility of its collapse.

The question that shook the world was a choice between a Plan A – more of the same, evidently failed austerity policies that made the country lose 25 percent of its GDP in five years – and a Plan B – a poorly designed Grexit, with unpredictable consequences that could mean the country’s sudden death.Instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

It is an indisputable fact that Greece requires major reforms and Greeks know this better than anyone else. These are related, among others, to major existing legislative gaps, the country’s geography which generates huge transaction costs, a cultural gap between cities and rural areas, and the decision making processes in the country.

Such reforms are of systemic nature, something that no politician in Greece seems able to grasp or advocate. The old guard that still rules the country’s affairs, despite being fully aware of its own failure, is still opting for quick and flaky solutions that hardly address the causes of this crisis.

The same goes for Europe’s leaders, who seem to be more cloistered than ever, limited to their national egos and political clientele. They seem to lack the capacity, both morally and intellectually, but above all the vision to steward Europe’s human face, while addressing this crisis.

A project of “unity in diversity” is threatened by its outdated, largely opaque decision making structures that govern its economics. This explains why European leaders, in the past years, instead of solutions have been offering no more than a narrative based on the worst possible stereotypes.

A top-down approach that plundered Greece into depression and made Greeks, especially the youth, feel like little hamsters in some sort of sick socio-economic experiment.

The Birth of a New Solidarity Economy

Some impressive civil society projects are already being implemented at the local grassroots level, piloting a parallel solidarity and needs-based economy and participa-tory governance.

Every day, a community kitchen called “The Οther Ηuman” is supplying free meals to hundreds of Greeks in need, and lately to immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, camping in the parks of Athens.

The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko near the old Athens airport, a 1.2 hectare plot of prime land on the beachfront of Athens, set to be privatised in a scan-dalous low price, is delivering free medicine, health check ups and preventive treat-ments to citizens with no insurance.

Both initiatives have no legal structure nor bank accounts, basing their operations in a currency that survives the capital controls: solidarity and humanity. Speaking of new ways of transaction, a bartering system is making a comeback in response to the closed banks, especially in rural areas.

Open access technologies are driving this transition, as they always do with initiatives promoting public dialogue, knowledge exchange, political participation and account-ability between citizens and politicians.

Politeia 2.0, a grassroots initiative for citizens’ engagement which is pioneering methods for participatory design of a new constitution and Vouliwatch, an independ-ent parliament watchdog, are just two of them.

With such prototypes launched, tested and operating at different levels, the challenge now is to scale and communicate them in every neighbourhood, village and city of the country.

This crisis never had its crisis manager, exposing the EU’s deficiencies and the distance that splits the politicians’ realities with those of citizens. This is not only evident in the way political leaders handle the Greek case, but other challenges too, such as the TTIP, climate change and immigration.

A new political arena is thus emerging within the EU, that has nothing to do with traditional ideological divides of the left or the right. This new political arena struggles to balance top-down versus bottom-up approaches to our ways of making decisions and planning the future.

Based on this recognition, it is clear that besides a “Plan A” (a politically humiliating and financially unsustainable agreement) and a “Plan B” (the risk of a Grexit), Greece is in dire need of working out a “Plan C”.

A roadmap for advancing towards a real transition back to the Commons, based on civil engagement for participatory mapping and collective management of the assets that influence what is currently under attack: the everyday lives of the people.

Greece needs to put in an unprecedented effort in order to overcome an unprecedented challenge, engaging the best actors in key social fields such as health, food, education and social welfare, just to name a few. At this point, this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain social cohesion and explore systemic solutions during the difficult times to come.

The starting point should probably be in the fields, which a recent study by Endeavor Greece identified as the only dynamic sectors that survive the crisis: agriculture, product manufacturing and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The food sector, especially, can pave the way since it is already an integral part of the country’s cultural fabric. With around 13 percent of the Greek workforce engaged in agriculture (the EU average is just over 5 percent), a carefully structured plan for a transition towards agroecology can become an extremely powerful vector of change and a drive for Greece’s new economy.

Community gardens like Per.Ka., located inside an abandoned army camp in Thessaloniki, and peer to peer networks like Peliti -Europe’s largest seed-swap community- are already carving out new food system paradigms.

This new process can only be led by the youth of Greece. Highly skilled, socially networked and internationally educated, many of them are looking back to the land to seek ways out of unemployment.

All these years, these young Greeks have been deprived access to bank loans, while others were transferring 250 billion euros outside the country. Should they be connected with food business incubators, seed funding opportunities and open source technologies, they could catalyse this transition towards a quality, climate-friendly agrifood system which connects the land with health, education, tourism, energy, transport and other services.

Of course, this would require the types of reforms against existing institutional barriers and an outdated legal framework in Greece. Unfortunately, in the last five years, such reforms have never been put on the table by successive Greek governments nor their creditors.

Agrifood is only one example of the few sectors that can generate considerable social, economic and environmental benefits which are necessary towards a more resilient future for the country.

Moreover, it is possibly one of the very few ways to create jobs for the youth, who are challenged by a staggering 52.4 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU. Citizens are in need of new options and new development indicators need to be considered in rebuilding the country’s economy.

This change needs to start at the local level, leveraging the potential of the aforementioned initiatives and many more that are acting at the grassroots.

The conditions are ripe, as the 2014 municipal elections brought staff with fresh ideas into office in Greek local authorities. The cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, home to half of the country’s population, received the Mayors Challenge and 100 Resilient Cities awards respectively.

Each one offers one million euros to their budgets for delegating, implementing and scaling strategies for civic participation and urban regeneration. It remains to be seen whether the tools and opportunities offered by those grants and networks will be used efficiently, and not from obsolete mismanagement attitudes and the nepotism of the past.

The challenge is also huge for the citizens of the rest of Europe, who are largely misinformed by reporters of mainstream media, landing in Athens with a mandate from their editors to mainly report on horror stories and misery icons.

This is the time to change this agenda of shame, and instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

Again, the youth can play a major role in strengthening the vision of a unified Europe, despite the power games that unfold at the political level. After all, we are the first true European generation.

Evidently, Greece was turned into an experiment in suffocating austerity. But what if Greece became the testing ground for visualising, prototyping and scaling a new economic paradigm that is socially inclusive, climate friendly and economically viable?

I am not sure whether the “Plan C” is the right name for this process. It is quite likely that populist politicians in Greece and Europe might abuse the term, like they did with so many others.

But the essence remains: this is a plan of solidarity, collaboration and resilience. And it is time that this dialogue opened all over Europe, if it wants to remain a Union, and maintain its leading role in the world.

Follow Pavlos Georgiadis on  Twitter: @geopavlos

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142018 Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141986 Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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New Label Defends Family Farming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:58:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141980 A stand in the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood. Producers and consumers will now benefit from the label “produced by family farmers”. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers.

Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late getting to the market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood because the heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the dirt roads to their farm, in the municipality of Florencio Varela, 38 km from the capital.

They quickly set up their fruit and vegetable stand as the first customers reach the old warehouse, which was closed down as a market during the severe economic crisis that broke out in late 2001. Today, 25 stands offer products sold by social, indigenous and peasant organisations, which are produced without slave labour and under the rules of fair trade.

“Our vegetables are completely natural. They are grown without toxic agrochemicals,” Araujo told IPS. She is a member of the Florencio Varela Family Farmers Cooperative, which also sells chicken, eggs, suckling pig and rabbit.

Across from Araujo’s stand, Analía Alvarado sells honey, homemade jams, cheese, seeds with nutritional properties, natural juices, olive oil, whole grain bread, organic yerba mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew – and dairy products.

Mercosur labels

Argentina’s new label forms part of a collective effort by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which began to work with such labels four years ago, as part of the Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), Raimundo Laugero explained.

Brazil – a member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – was a pioneer in the bloc, creating a family farming label in 2009, according to the REAF.

Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador also take part in the REAF, which brings together governments and family farming organisations. The REAF announced that in June Chile created its own label, “Manos Campesinas” (peasant hands) for “healthy products of peasant origin, made on a small scale, which foment local development.”

Ecuador and Bolivia have also taken decisive steps towards creating a label that would “defend food sovereignty, rural incomes and access to local foods.” Uruguay, meanwhile, is holding a series of meetings “on the creation of a family agriculture label.”

“The idea is to give small farmers a chance, and here we have people from all around the country, who wouldn’t otherwise have the possibility of selling their goods,” Alvarado said.

The ministry of agriculture, livestock and fishing took another step in that direction with the creation in July of the “Produced by Family Farms” label, “to enhance the visibility of, inform and raise awareness about the significant contribution that family farms make to food security and sovereignty.”

According to the ministry, there are 120,000 family farms in this country of 43 million people, and the sector is “the main supplier of food for the Argentine population, providing approximately 70 percent of the daily diet.”

“A label identifying products grown on family farms not only makes the sector more visible but foments a dialogue between consumers and farmers who have a presence in the countryside across the entire nation, generating territorial sovereignty,” said Raimundo Laugero, director of programmes and projects in the ministry’s family agriculture secretariat.

In the category of family farmers the government includes peasants, small farmers, smallholders, indigenous communities, small-scale fisher families, landless rural workers, sharecroppers, craftspeople, and urban and periurban producers.

In his interview with IPS, Laugero said the label will not only identify products as coming from the family agriculture sector, but will “guarantee health controls, chemical-free and non-industrial production, and production characterised by diversity, unlike monoculture farming.

“When we’re talking about a product from family agriculture, the symbolic value is that they are produced through artisanal processes and with work by the family, and one fundamental aspect is that behind the product are the faces of people who live in the countryside,” he said.

Agriculture is one of the pillars of the economy of this South American nation, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 percent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

María José Otero, a pharmacist, has come a long way to the market on her bicycle, but she doesn’t mind. For her family she wants “the healthiest and most natural diet possible, free of chemicals.”

She also shops here because of “a social question” – she wants to benefit those “who produce natural food without so much industrialisation, while avoiding the middlemen who drive up food prices.

“Besides, I’m really interested in the impact caused by the act of consuming something with awareness,” she added. “That means taking care of the environment where you work, respecting animals. It’s not the same thing to consume eggs from animals that walk about and eat naturally as from animals that are cruelly treated and packed into warehouses, fed in horrible ways.”

Otero said the new label was “great.” “There’s a lot of deception in this also, from people who say they’re selling organic products or products made with a social conscience, and it’s a lie. This label gives you a guarantee,” she said.

“This will especially help the public become aware of what it means to help small farmers. So they can realise that what they pay and what they consume really goes to them, and for the people who do the work to really get paid what they are due,” Alvarado said.

Laugero also stressed that a significant aspect of the new label is that it is linked to “participatory guarantee systems for agroecological products.”

He pointed out that normally when farmers apply for a label recognising their products, they need to turn to a company that carries out the certification process, while the concept “agroecological” has other components.

He mentioned six pilot projects in Argentina, of participatory guarantee systems – basically locally focused quality assurance systems – for agroecological products, which involve organised farmers and consumers, and which the state will now support as well.

“With the label, they’re going to do much better, because they’ll have a more massive reach, and more people will be included,” he said.

At the Bonpland market, Claudia Giorgi, a member of the La Asamblearia cooperative, which works as part of a network with other social organisations, is preparing shipments to another province which will use the same transportation to send products back, to cut costs.

Giorgi makes papaya preserves. But she also sells products from other cooperatives like natural cosmetics, lavender soap, medicinal herbs, pesticide-free tea, mustard and different kinds of flour.

“What is produced in each social organisation is traded for products from other groups, at each organisation’s cost, which is the producers’ costs plus what is spent on logistics,” she explained to IPS.

She said she didn’t have any information yet about the new label, but believes that it will be a good thing if it proves to be “functional” and if it differs from labels that “are profit-making schemes” and “have a cost.”

The resolution creating the new label states that one of the aims is to “promote new channels of marketing and sales points.”

Laugero noted that besides accounting for 20 percent of agricultural GDP, family farming represents 95 percent of goat production, 22 percent of cattle production, 30 percent of sheep production, 33 percent of honey production, 25 percent of fruit production, 60 percent of fresh vegetables, and 15 percent of grains.

“But that doesn’t always translate into profits,” he said. “We need to work hard on those aspects so that income also ends up in the hands of family farmers.”

In her case, Araujo puts the emphasis on solving even more simple problems, such as finding transportation for her vegetables to the market, even when it rains.

“They should fix our dirt roads,” she said, clarifying that small farmers themselves have offered to participate in the task.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Impressive Relief Effort Alleviating Hardship in Flood-Affected Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 22:48:12 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141968 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

With the rainy season still far from over, flood-affected communities in the Sagaing Region and other parts of northern and western Myanmar are preparing for more hardships, while the government continues what the United Nations has called an “incredible” relief effort.

In a statement released on Aug. 12 upon her return from the Kale Township in Sagaing, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Dessallien referred to the people in this Southeast Asian nation of 53 million as being among “the most generous in the world”, adding she was “humbled by the spontaneous public outpouring of solidarity and assistance to flood-affected communities.”

Everyone from ordinary citizen volunteers and residents to NGO workers and celebrities have lent their hand to communities whose homes have been buried under mud and debris, and to families who have lost houses, crops, livestock and most of their belongings.

A situation report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Aug. 11 revealed that 1.1 million people have been “critically affected” by monsoonal floods and landslides since mid-July, while 689,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

The death toll as of Aug. 10, according to Myanmar’s National Natural Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), stands at 103, but on-going search and rescue operations led by the government may push the number higher.

An estimated 240,000 households have been displaced. Those living in makeshift shelters, cut away from their farmland, are now completely reliant on emergency relief supplies, from food and medicines to shelter and alternative livelihood options.

Aid workers say the biggest priority is ensuring displaced communities have access to healthcare and sanitation facilities, and the government is leading efforts to provide the necessary services and supplies.

Quoting government statistics, OCHA noted that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has so far provided over 390,000 dollars worth of food supplies, relief items and cash assistance.

“Civil society organisations, individual donors and the private sector have provided in kind and cash assistance, contributing over 435,000 dollars as of Aug. 9,” the agency added.

In a bid to ensure longer-term food security in affected areas, the government has announced plans to distribute paddy seeds and other farm machinery and equipment that will help agricultural communities to get back on their feet.

Waters are now receding in many areas, but mud and debris left behind by the floods will need to be cleared; to this end the government will issue specialized equipment, including pumps, to families who rely on the land for subsistence.

The U.N. has already poured 10 million dollars into the effort, representing half the total international response thus far. Among other things, the funds are being used to construct 10,000 emergency shelters, while an estimated 213,000 people have already benefited from food aid.

But increased financing is needed to provide additional services such as psychological counseling for people who have been deeply traumatized by the disaster, and education facilities for children impacted by the closure of roughly 1,200 schools.

While the challenge is daunting, Dessallien expressed optimism that it can be surmounted, stating that the “caring and generosity, dedication and courage” shown by both government officials and civil society “are showing the true spirit of Myanmar.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141938 There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Artists Raise Their Voices for Climate Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/caribbean-artists-raise-their-voices-for-climate-justice/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:13:37 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141924 Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Award-winning St. Lucian poet and playwright Kendel Hippolyte thinks that Caribbean nationals should view the Earth as their mother.

“For me, the whole thing is so basic: the earth that we are living on and in is our mother and there are ways that we are supposed to treat our mother and relate to our mother,” the 64-year-old, who has won the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) for Contribution to the Arts, told IPS.“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us -- 1.5 to Stay Alive!" -- Didacus Jules

Caribbean residents are expected to accord the highest levels of respect to their mothers. Therefore, Hippolyte’s approach could see many of the region’s nationals engaged in more individual actions to adapt to and mitigate against climate change.

“And if we deal with our mother as a person is supposed to deal with his or her mother, then so much falls into place,” Hippolyte tells told at a climate change conference last month dubbed “Voices and Imagination United for Climate Justice”.

Hippolyte is one of several artists from across the Caribbean who have agreed to use their social and other influences to educate Caribbean residents about climate change and what actions that they can take as individuals.

The conference focused on the establishment of an informal grouping of Caribbean artists and journalists who will be suitably briefed and prepared to add their voice — individually or collectively — to advocacy and awareness campaigns, with an initial focus on the climate change talks in Paris in December.

The artists include Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian David Michael Rudder, who is celebrated for songs like “Haiti”, a tribute to the glory and suffering of Haiti, and “Rally ‘Round the West Indies”, which became the anthem of Caribbean’s cricket.

British-born, Barbados-based soca artist Alison Hinds and Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also signed on to the effort.

Ahead of the 2015 climate change summit in Paris this year, Caribbean negotiators are seeking the support of the region’s artists in spreading the message of climate justice.

They say that the region has contributed minimally to climate change, but, as small island developing states (SIDS), is being most affected most its negative impacts.

Countries that have contributed most to climate change, the argument goes, must help SIDS to finance mitigation and adaption efforts.

St. Lucia’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, James Fletcher, told IPS that at the world climate change talks in Paris this year, SIDS will be pushing for a strong, legally-binding climate accord that will keep global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels.

Caribbean negotiators have put this redline into very stark terms, using the rubric “1.5 to stay alive”.

If global temperature rise is capped at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation temperatures, most countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — a 15-member bloc running including Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland, Jamaica in the northern Caribbean, and Belize in Central America — will still see their total annual rainfall decrease between 10 and 20 per cent, Fletcher says.

And even with a 2-degree Celsius cap, the Caribbean is projected to experience greater sea level rise than most areas of the world, he tells IPS.

He says that some models predict that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures will lead to a one-metre sea level rise in the Caribbean.

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

This will translate to the loss of 1,300 square kilometres of land — equivalent to the areas of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines combined, Fletcher told IPS.

Over 110,000 people, a number equivalent to the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will be displaced.

In a region highly dependent on tourism, 149 tourism resorts will be damaged, five power plants will be either damaged or destroyed, 1 per cent of all agricultural land will be lost, 21 airports will be damaged or destroyed, land surrounding 21 CARICOM airports will be damaged or destroyed, and 567 kilometres of roads will be lost.

The countries of the Caribbean, famous for sun, sea and sand, have at the national level been rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

But Hippolyte believes that there is much that can be done at the individual level and says while a lot of information is available to Caribbean nationals, there needs to be a shift in attitude.

“A lot of the information about what we need to do is out there, but in a way, it is here, it is in the brain,” he says, pointing to his head.

“And to me, where I see the arts coming in, and where I see myself and other artists coming in to take the information, the knowledge,” he says, pointing again to his head, “and to bring it here — into the heart,” he says.

“And if that information goes into the heart, then it goes out into the hands and into the body into what we do and what we actually don’t do,” Hippolyte tells IPS.

Speaking at the climate justice event, Didacus Jules, director general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a nine-member political and economic sub-group within CARICOM, told IPS that “justice lies in the protection of the vulnerable whether they be the individual poor or the marginal state”.

Most of the infrastructure in small island development states is along the coast and threatened by sea level rise, Jules points out.

“The negative impacts of climate change are also influencing how we interact with each other as a people given that we have to compete for limited resources,” he tells IPS.

“The climate justice message must therefore be spread in every corner of this region (the Caribbean) and not only promoted by global media that does not always have the interests of SIDS at the forefront.”

He says that Caribbean artists can play a role in spreading the message of climate justice.

“We have seen the power of our Caribbean artists and musicians. Caribbean music is a global force with an impact outlasting any hurricane that we have experienced,” Jules said.

He said that despite the vulnerabilities and challenges that SIDS face, “rallying in the region by using our voices can send a strong signal to let the world know that we are fully aware of the implications of not having a legally binding international agreement on climate change and the impacts it can have on SIDS in our region.

“The bottom line is that the impacts of climate change threaten our very existence,” Jules tells IPS.

“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us — 1.5 to Stay Alive! The Alliance of Small Island States has made it clear that it wants below 1.5° Celcius reflected as a long-term temperature goal and benchmark for the level of global climate action in the Paris agreement this year,” Jules said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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