Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Apr 2015 13:27:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Swelling Ethiopian Migration Casts Doubt on its Economic Miraclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/swelling-ethiopian-migration-casts-doubt-on-its-economic-miracle/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 13:20:36 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140322 By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

The 28 Ethiopian migrants of Christian faith murdered by the Islamic State (IS) on Apr. 19 in Libya had planned to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of work in Europe.

Commenting on the killings to Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), Ethiopian government spokesperson Redwan Hussien urged potential migrants not to risk their lives by using dangerous exit routes.

Hussein’s call sparked anger among hundreds of Ethiopian youths and relatives of the deceased, who took to the streets in the capital Addis Ababa this week before the demonstration was disbanded by the police, local media reported.

Protestors cited the government’s lukewarm response to the massacre of Orthodox Christians for their outrage, the Addis Standard reported. Later in the week, during a public rally organised by the government in the capital, violence again broke out between security forces and protesters resulting in injuries and the detention of over a hundred protesters, local and international media reported.“Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth” – Yared Hailemariam, former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (now Human Rights Council)

Almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, the majority of those Orthodox Copts – who say that they have been in the Horn of Africa nation since the first century AD — as well as large numbers of Protestants.

In the widely-reported incident in Libya, IS militants beheaded 16 Ethiopian migrants in one group on a beach and shot 12 in the head in another group in a desert area. Eyasu Yikunoamilak and Balcha Belete, residents of the impoverished Cherkos neighbourhood in Addis Ababa, were among the victims, it was learnt, along with three other victims from Cherkos.

Seyoum Yikunoamilak, elder brother of Eyasu Yikunoamilak, told FBC that Eyasu and Balcha left their country for Sudan two months ago en route to reach the United Kingdom for work to help themselves and their families, but this was not meant to be.

“I used to talk to them on phone while they were in the Sudan,” Seyoum said in grief. “But I never heard from them since they entered Libya one month ago.” Eyasu had previously been a migrant worker in Qatar and had covered his friend’s expenses with his savings to reach Europe, said Seyoum.

In defiance of the warning of the government spokesperson, Meshesa Mitiku, a long-time friend of Eyasu and Balcha living in Cherkos, told the Associated Press on Apr. 20: “I will try my luck too but not through Libya. Here there is no chance to improve yourself.” Meshesha’s intentions came even after learning about the fate of his friends.

Ethiopian lawmakers declared a three-day national mourning on Apr. 21. The government also expressed its readiness to repatriate all migrants in dangerous foreign countries, the Washington-based VOA Amharic radio reported.

The rally earlier in the week came one month before Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, the first since the death of long-time leader Meles Zenawi, and current prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to face little if any opposition challenge.

“We will redouble efforts to fight terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesman Tewolde Mulugeta said in response to demands for action from protesters.

Ethiopia is trying to create jobs so that people do not feel the need to leave to find work, he added. “We’re trying to create opportunities here for our young people. We encourage them to exploit those opportunities at home.”

Nevertheless, disenchantment marked by asserted claims of repression, inequality and unemployment has spurred a series of protests against the regime over the last few years.

These and other issues have prompted the exodus of Ethiopian migrants to Europe, according to several observers. “The idea that the majority of Ethiopian migrants relocate due to economic reasons appears flawed,” contends Tom Rhodes, East Africa Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an email interview with IPS. Rhodes also maintained that the violation of fundamental freedoms is closely tied with poverty and economic inequality.

In an email interview with IPS, Yared Hailemariam, a former senior researcher for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, agreed. “Pervasive repression and denial of fundamental freedoms has led to frustration, alienation and disillusionment among most Ethiopian youth.”

“Citizens have the right to peacefully protest,” said Felix Horne, East Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch. “It’s no surprise given the steps government takes to restrict peaceful protests that disenfranchised youth would use the rare opportunity of an officially sanctioned public demonstration to express their frustrations. That’s the inevitable outcome when there are no other means for them to express their opinions.”

The main opposition parties say that the government has failed to create job opportunities, making migration inevitable. The regime, they charge, favours members of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and creates economic inequality.

Recently dubbed an “African tiger”, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous nations with 94 million people (Nigeria has 173.6 million). It has been celebrated for its modest economic growth over the last years. But the average unemployment rate (the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force) was stuck at 20.26 percent from 1999 to 2014.

“The regime allocates state resources and job opportunities to members of the ruling party who are organised in small-scale and micro enterprises,” noted Horne. The CPJ representative agreed. “Ethiopian government authorities tend to reward their political supporters and ethnic relations with lucrative political and business positions” at the expense of ingenuity in the business sector.

In its 2015 report, the World Bank shared this discouraging view. Some 37 million Ethiopians – one-third of the country’s population – are still “either poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty”, the World Bank said, adding that the “very poorest in Ethiopia have become even poorer” over the last decade or so.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has estimated that about 29 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. This explains Ethiopia’s rank at 174 out of 187 countries on the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.

The Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation that spotlights land grabs, was recently denounced by Ethiopian officials for its latest reportWe Say the Land is Not Yours’. According to the government, the institute used “unverified and unverifiable information”.

In a reply to the Ethiopian Embassy in the United Kingdom on Apr. 22, Oakland Institute challenged the government’s claim that ongoing development was improving life standards in the country.

The institute maintained that the government’s development endeavours are “destroying the lives, culture, traditions, and livelihoods” of many indigenous and pastoralist populations, further warning that the strategy was “unsustainable and creating a fertile breeding ground for conflict.”

More than half of Ethiopia’s farmers are cultivating plots so small as to barely provide sustenance. These one hectare or less plots are further affected by drought, an ineffective and inefficient agricultural marketing system and underdeveloped production technologies, says FAO. Several studies indicate that this phenomenon has induced massive rural-urban migration.

According to Yared Hailemariam, state ownership of land has contributed to poverty and inequality. “People don’t have full rights over their properties so that they lack the motivation to invest,” he stressed. The ruling regime insists that land will remain in the hands of the state, and selling and buying land is prohibited in Ethiopia.

Yared also pointed out that the ruling party owns several huge businesses which has created unfair competition in the economy. “The party’s huge conglomerates have weakened other public and private businesses” he told IPS. “Only the ruling party’s political elites and their business cronies are benefitting at the expense of the majority of the people.”

The tragic news of the massacre in Libya came amid news of xenophobic attacks against Ethiopian migrants in South Africa last week including looting and burning of properties. Unknown numbers of Ethiopian economic migrants are also trapped in the Yemeni conflict, according to state media.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Kenyan Pastoralists Protest Wanton Destruction of Indigenous Foresthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenyan-pastoralists-protest-wanton-destruction-of-indigenous-forest/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 11:43:44 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140319 Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Forest rangers putting out a fire at a charcoal burning kiln in Kenya’s Mau Forest. The future of the country’s indigenous forest cover is under threat but this has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2015 (IPS)

Armed with twigs and placards, enraged residents from a semi-pastoral community 360 km north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, protested this week against wanton destruction of indigenous forest – their alternative source of livelihood.

With climate change a new ordeal that has caused frequent droughts, leading to suffering and death in this part of Africa, the community from Lpartuk Ranch in Samburu County relies on livestock which is sometimes wiped out by severe drought leaving them with no other option other than the harvesting of wild products and honey.

“People here are ready to take up spears and machetes to guard the forest. They have been provoked by outsiders who are out to wipe out our indigenous forest to the last bit,” Mark Loloolki, Lpartuk Ranch chairman, who led the protesting community members told IPS.

They threatened to set alight any vehicle caught ferrying the timbers or logs suspected to be from their forests.Illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries

Their protest came barely a week after counterparts from Seketet, a few kilometres away in Samburu Central, held a similar protest after over 12,000 red cedar posts were caught on transit to Maralal, Samburu’s main town.

Last year, students walked for four kilometres during International Ozone Day to protest against the wanton destruction of the same endangered forest tree species.

A report titled Green Carbon, Black Trade, released by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol in 2012,  which focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world, underlines how criminals are combining old-fashioned methods such as bribes with high-tech methods such as computer hacking of government websites to obtain transportation and other permits.

Samburu County, in Kenya’s semi-arid northern region, hosts Lerroghi, a 92,000 hectare forest reserve that is home to different indigenous plants and animal species. Lerroghi, also called Kirisia locally, is among the largest forest ecosystem in dry northern Kenya and was initially filled with olive and red cedar trees.

It is alleged that unscrupulous merchants smuggle the endangered red cedar products to the coastal port of Mombasa for shipping to Saudi Arabia where they are sold at high prices.

“This is a business that involves a well-connected cartel of merchants operating in Nairobi and Mombasa,” said Loloolki.

In Kenya, the future of indigenous forest cover is under threat but has little to do with poverty and ignorance – experts say that it is greed which allows unsustainable practices, such as the lucrative production of charcoal and logging of wood.

“This forest is our main water catchment source and home to wild animals such as elephants,” Moses Lekolool, the area assistant chief, told IPS. “Elephants no longer have a place to mate and reproduce or even give birth, with most of them having migrated.”

According to Samburu County’s Kenya Forest Service (KFS) Ecosystem Controverter Eric Chemitei, “as a government parastatal, we [KFS] do not issue permits for transportation or movement of cedar posts. However, we do not know how they get to Nairobi, Mombasa and eventually to Saudi Arabia as alleged.”

At the same time, Chemitei told IPS that squatters currently residing inside the forest are mainly families affected by insecurity related to cattle rustling, adding that their presence was posing a threat to the main water towers of Lerroghi, Mathew Ranges, and Ndoto and Nyiro mountains.

He further noted that harvesting of cedar regardless of whether forest was privately or publicly owned was banned in 1999, and that over 30,000 hectares – one-third of the Lerroghi forest – has been destroyed.

Reports from INTERPOL and the World Bank in 2009 and from UNEP in 2011 indicate that the trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative for criminal elements and has been estimated at 11 billion dollars – comparable with the production value of drugs which is estimated at around 13 billion dollars.

In a report on organised wildlife, gold and timber, released on Apr. 16, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “There is no room for doubt: wildlife and forest crime is serious and calls for an equally serious response. In addition to the breach of the international rule of law and the impact on peace and security, environmental crime robs countries of revenues that could have been spent on sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.”

According to the KFS Strategic Plan (2009/2010-2013/2014), of the 3.4 million hectares (5.9 percent) of forest cover out of the Kenya’s total land area, 1.4 million are made up of indigenous closed canopy forests, mangroves and plantations, on both public and private lands.

The plan also indicated that Kenya’s annual domestic demand for wood is 37 million cubic metres while sustainable wood supply is only around 30 million cubic metres, thus creating a deficit of seven million cubic metres which, according to analysts, means that any projected increase in forest cover can only be realised after this huge internal demand is met.

Last year, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu said that KFS’ revised policy framework for forest conservation and sustainable management lists features including community participation, community forest associations and benefit sharing.

The policy acknowledges that indigenous trees or forests are ecosystems that provide important economic, environmental, recreational, scientific, social, cultural and spiritual benefits.

Nevertheless, illegal harvesting of forest products is pervasive and often involves unsustainable forest practices which cause serious damage to forests, the people who depend on them and the economies of producer countries.

Forests have been subjected to land use changes such as conversion to farmland or urban settlements, thus reducing their ability to supply forest products and serve as water catchments, biodiversity conservation reservoirs and wildlife habitats.

Meanwhile, the effect of forest depletion on women has been noted by Veronica Nkepeni , Director of Kenya’s Centre for Advocacy and Gender Equality, who told IPS that the “most affected are women in the pastoralist areas, trekking long distances in search of water as a result of the effects of forest depletion leading to water scarcity.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: To Solve Hunger, Start with Soilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-to-solve-hunger-start-with-soil/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:44:03 +0000 Anne-Marie Steyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140293 Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

Experts give advice on potato-planting for greater yields in an episode of Shamba Shape Up.

By Anne-Marie Steyn
NAIROBI, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Peter looked confused as he recounted how he’d painstakingly planted potatoes to sell and to feed his family of eight, only to find that when harvest time rolled around he had been greeted with tiny tubers not much bigger than golf balls.

A young farmer living in Bomet County in Kenya, Peter had recently been ‘shaped up’ on film, as part of our farming reality TV show Shamba Shape Up. The show is aired as a six-month-long (one growing season) series of 30-minute television programmes on leading channels in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda 2012 to audiences across Kenya.Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

It is Africa’s first makeover reality television programme using real experts to show small-scale farmers how to improve pest management, irrigation, cattle rearing, poultry keeping, financial education and crop management techniques, in an engaging yet informative way.

Peter’s story is discouraging, yet it’s happening to farmers all over Africa, not just with potatoes but all manner of crops that just don’t grow like they should.

One reason for this is that the very soil in sub-Saharan Africa that should be a fertile home for helping crops thrive, is degraded, acidic, and simply won’t support crop growth. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 65 per cent of Africa’s arable land is depleted of vital nutrients, which have been taken from the soil through continuous farming, and never replaced.  Sub-Saharan Africa represents 10 per cent of the total global population yet only 0.8 per cent of total fertiliser use.

In a region that is struggling to feed itself, addressing soil health is already a critical issue. But we need to start by showing the farmers themselves why it is so important, and why investing in soil health will pay off. Most farmers simply do not understand the importance of looking after the soil to their farm, and apply the same fertiliser, without knowing if it is the right one, season after season for their whole farming lives.

Of the 180 farms Shamba Shape Up has worked with, only one had ever conducted a soil test, to find out what kind of nutrients they needed to boost productivity. Yet when we survey farmers, or review requests coming in through our SMS information service, the topics of fertiliser, soil fertility and soil testing are among the most requested.

It is clear that there is a great knowledge gap. Bridging this gap, and educating farmers on soil health is going to be critical, if we are to meet the proposed Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end hunger by 2030. And monitoring farmer outreach that takes place on effective soil management practices could be an effective way to track this progress.

Peter got some advice for his potatoes. An expert recommended the Viazi Power Programme, which uses a combination of nutrients that are applied to the potato crop at various stages of growth. This treatment has helped farmers on one acre of land to reach yields of 50 to 80 sacks of potatoes, that are large and of a good quality.

But Peter had actually tried to use the Viazi Power Programme in the past, and failed. His downfall was using recycled seeds from his farm that were not certified, and carried Bacterial Wilt. Sending three children to school, Peter couldn’t afford the higher price of the clean seed.

Lack of access to finance is a key obstacle to farmers taking on soil health techniques. But here is where education once again plays a vital role: if farmers are shown the return they can have on their investment and how to realise this gain, more will be encouraged to adopt more costly practices.

Shamba Shape Up now includes a soil health element in every episode we produce, and our method of farmer education is proving successful. Of the 50 per cent of the audience who adopt new practices every year from the show, 97 per cent say that the change caused an increase in money or food production from their farm.

A recent study by Reading University estimated that farmers who adopted a soil-related improvement in their maize as a result of Shamba Shape Up shows in Nakuru doubled their production. In Muranga, yields were quadrupled. For families living on 30 to 150 dollars per month, doubled production can mean school fees or surviving an illness.

As negotiators finalise the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations later this year, we urge them to consider farmers like Peter, and the life changing transformation that better education on soil health could bring to families like his.

Without farmers understanding the importance of soil and having easy access to soil improvement methods, they cannot win the battle against declining soil fertility. And without soil fertility, they will lose the battle against hunger or poverty.

The world cannot accept defeat on such an important issue; instead we must empower farmers like Peter to win these battles, for his family, his country and his continent.

Explore Farming First’s new online essay “The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals” for more on this topic.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Riches in World’s Oceans Estimated at Staggering 24 Trillion Dollarshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:35:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140283 Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies, according to a new report released Thursday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will." -- Marco Lambertini of WWF

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.

“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”

If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study,

Titled Reviving the Ocean Economy, the report was produced by WWF in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

After nine years of intense negotiations, a U.N. Working Group, comprising all 193 member states, agreed last January to convene an inter-governmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and genetic resources in what is now considered mostly lawless high seas.

Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative who co-chaired the Working Group, told IPS the oceans are the next frontier for exploitation by large corporations, especially those seeking to develop lucrative pharmaceuticals from living and non-living organisms which exist in large quantities in the high seas.

“The technically advanced countries, which are already deploying research vessels in the oceans and some of which are currently developing products, including valuable pharmaceuticals, based on biological material extracted from the high seas, were resistant to the idea of regulating the exploitation of such material and sharing the benefits,” he said.

According to the United Nations, the high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country. 

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

The proposed international treaty, described as a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, is expected to address “the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.”

According to the WWF report, more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output.

Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.

The report also warns that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years.

At the same time, growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.

The study specifically singles out climate change as a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.

At the current rate of global warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050.

More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the ocean to repair.

Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, with 90 per cent of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited, according to the study.

The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96 per cent from unfished levels, according to the WWF report.

“It is not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature,” the report says, while proposing an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.

Among the most time-critical solutions presented in the report are embedding ocean recovery throughout the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking global action on climate change and making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas.

“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development,” said Lambertini.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The World Has Reached Peak Plutocracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-has-the-world-reached-peak-plutocracy/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:11:01 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140276 The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

Parents in despair because they can’t pay the fees at the privatised neighbourhood school…

Families left without healthcare because the mining company that pollutes their river also dodges the taxes that could pay for their treatment…

Women getting four hours of sleep a night as they try to balance caring for their families and homes with earning income…

Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose

Whole communities thrown off their land to make way for a foreign company…

Workers paid so little by employers that they’re suffering malnutrition.

These are just a few of the reports I’ve heard from my colleagues in recent months.

We see people frustrated by the surge in the power of the plutocrats.

Plutocracy is a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest. The rich have always been powerful; some element of plutocracy has been present in all societies.

But the degree of control being exercised now; the number of the ultra-rich essentially buying political power; the nearly impossible persistence required to overcome the legal, public relations, and technical resources controlled by corporations and the richest individuals; the much denser concentration of wealth in even the largest countries; and the global nature of the resources, power, and connections being accumulated have combined to foreclose meaningful democratic options and space for a life independent of the materialistic values of the plutocracy.The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy.

The logic that undergirds all of this – the greed for money, power, and control – is antithetical to preserving an environment in which living things can thrive. Through most of human history we have endured various unbalanced political and social systems.

Today’s market economy has roots going back centuries, but only in this one has it become so monolithic, with virtually the entire world under its spell.

We are living in an age of hyper-capitalism: we have gone beyond industrialisation and value-addition to a point where the rules are written by the financiers, and the finance industry, rather than a sector that actually makes something, has become arguably the most politically powerful industry in history.

A brief period of relative equality in the richer countries after World War II gave way from the late 1970s to a powerful ideology of competition, unending growth, and unhindered profit. This ideology was charted deliberately by institutes lavishly funded by aspiring plutocrats.

The denial of limits, the privileging of competition and profit over cooperation and public goods, and the capitulation of governments to the power of money has made the modern plutocracy a dominant reality, and one that must be reversed.

Commentators now routinely speak of how people can “contribute to the economy.” The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy. “Freedom” has been reconfigured to refer to consumer choice rather than the ability to determine how to order one’s life.

A few years ago there was considerable debate about the concept of “peak oil” – the possibility we were reaching the beginning of the end of usable petroleum supplies. We may be reaching a more dangerous point: peak plutocracy, where society and the environment can sustain no more concentration of power and resources.

So it is worrying to hear so consistently from colleagues around the world the extent to which the power of people is being curtailed by the people with power.

We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:

• the so far largely successful efforts of business interests to prevent meaningful action on climate change;

• the push for high-input, high-tech, restricted-ownership agriculture that excludes smallholder farmers – a great portion of them women — who feed most of the world’s people;

• the collusion of governments and companies in taking control of land and natural resources from communities in order to generate profits for privileged outsiders;

• the “race to the bottom” among governments to sacrifice revenues through blanket “tax holidays” in order to lure foreign investment, even when the benefits are unclear or negligible;

• the failure of governments to establish laws that protect workers from abuses ranging from trafficking to unlivable wages to unacceptably risky working conditions, with women workers in the most precarious, low-paid and inhumane jobs;

• the failure to recognise the systematic abuse of women’s rights in many areas – but in particular the deep uncompensated subsidies women provide to all economies with their unpaid and low-paid care work that keep families and societies functioning;

• the pressure put on countries – and more recently the collusion between governments and companies – to change commercial and consumer-protection laws so that foreign companies can dominate markets;

• the use of coercion, including violence, by powerful elites in private enterprises, fundamentalist movements, and repressive regimes to control women’s bodies and sexual and reproductive choices, their labour, mobility and political voice;

• the pressure to privatize schools at the expense of decent public education, despite the complete absence of evidence that the results will be beneficial to anyone beside the owners;

• the unwarranted scorn directed at the public sector, and the pervasive recourse to the notion of “private sector led development” by most donor countries and inter-governmental institutions, even in the absence of positive models

• the fetishization of foreign direct investment in low-income countries despite compelling evidence that no country has achieved sustainable development with foreign capital;

• the increasing congruence of interests among governments, corporations, and elites in limiting the freedom of action of social movements and public interest groups, constricting political space in all parts of the world;

• the increasing domination of wealthy corporations and individuals in United Nations debates and processes.

• the brazen ideological defense of inequality and massive concentration of power and resources by wealthy individuals and the institutes they fund;

• the increasing number of disasters and emergencies are turned into profit opportunities, as affected areas are remade according to the plutocrats’ rules.

• the refusal of governments to combat the global youth unemployment crisis with public jobs programs to address the widely-acknowledged looming crisis of deteriorating infrastructure;

• the fallacy of scarcity revealed by the capacity of governments to find massive public financial resources for war and bank bailouts, but seldom for programs that would employ people, combat hunger and disease, and foster renewable energy.

The hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has corrupted democratic systems, in rich countries as well as in poor ones.

We need to democratise power. But that doesn’t mean just better monitoring of elections. It means making power more horizontal, more accessible to more people, the people who are affected by the decisions made.

There is no one-off recipe for making this happen. It has to happen over and over again, every day, everywhere, with increasing connections so that we won’t be crowded out by those with money and influence. We have to occupy space and not leave it, and then occupy some more.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tribunal Ruling Could Dent “Monster Boat” Trawling in West African Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:35:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140214 Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, The Gambia, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

It was five in the afternoon and Buba Badjie, a boat captain, had just brought his catch to the shore. He had spent twelve hours at sea off Bakau, a major fish landing site in The Gambia.

Inside the trays strewn on the floor bed of his wooden boat were bonga and catfish. Scores of women crowded around, looking to buy his catch.

“This is just enough to cover my expenses,” he tells IPS, indicating the squirming silvery creatures. “I went up to 20-something kilometres and all we could get was bonga.

“I spent more than 2,500 dalasis (60 dollars) on this one trip,” he confessed.

Badjie, 38, is not a native Gambian. Originally from neighbouring Senegal, he came here as a teenager looking for work. But the sea he has been fishing for almost two decades is no longer the same, he says somberly.

“This trade is about win and loss,” he added. “But nowadays, we have more losses. Recently, I went up to 50-something kilometres to another fishing ground but still no catch.

“The problem is the variations in the weather pattern. Also, we encounter huge commercial trawlers in the waters. Sometimes, they threaten to kill us when we confront them. When we spread our nets, they ruin them.”

But Badjie’s plight and that of thousands of other artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better.“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable” – Greenpeace

In an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the first of its kind by the full tribunal – the body affirmed that “flag States” have a duty of due diligence to ensure that fishing vessels flying their flag comply with relevant laws and regulations concerning marine resources to enable the conservation and management of these resources.

Flag States, ruled the tribunal, must take necessary measures to ensure that these vessels are not engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the waters of member countries of West Africa’s Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SFRC). Further, they can be held liable for breach of this duty. The ruling specifies that the European Union has the same duty as a state.

West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37 percent of the region’s catch.

“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” World Wildlife Fund International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer was reported as saying. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”

The SRFC covers the West African countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The need for an advisory opinion by the Tribunal emerged in 1993 when the SRFC reported an “over-exploitation of fisheries resources; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of an ever more alarming magnitude.” Such illegal catches were nearly equal to allowable ones, it said.

Further, “the lost income to national economies caused by IUU fishing in Wet Africa is on the order of 500 million dollars per year.”

The apparent theft of West Africa’s fish stocks has been denounced by various environmental groups including Greenpeace, which described “monster boats” trawling in African waters on a webpage titled ‘Fish Fairly’.

“For decades,” Greenpeace wrote, “the European Union and its member states have allowed their industrial fishing fleet to swell to an unsustainable size… In 2008, the European Commission estimated that parts of the E.U. fishing fleet were able to harvest fish much faster than stocks were able to regenerate.’’

“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable.”

Unofficial sources told IPS that there are forty-seven industrial-sized fishing vessels currently in The Gambia’s waters, thirty-five of which are from foreign fleets.

Meanwhile, artisanal fishers, on whom the population depends for supply, say they are finding it hard to feed the market. Prices have risen phenomenally and shortages in the market are no longer a rarity.

“Our waters are overfished,” said Ousman Bojang, 80, a veteran Gambian fisher.

Bojang learnt the fishing trade from his father when he was young, but later switched gears to become a police officer.

After 20 years, he retired and returned to fishing. Building his first fishing boat in 1978, he became the president of the first-ever association of fishers in the country.

“Fishing improved my livelihood,” he told IPS. “While I was in the service, I could not build a hut for myself. Now, I have built a compound. I’ve sent my children to school and all of them have graduated.

“I transferred my skills to them and they’ve joined me at sea. I have 25 children; 10 boys and 15 girls. All the boys are into fishing. Even the girls, some know how to do hook and line and to repair net.”

Other hopeful trends for the artisanal fishers include the recognition by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that illegal fishing is a priority that the continent must address.

Another is the endorsement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations of guidelines which seek to improve conditions for small-scale fishers.

Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, told IPS that the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide a framework change in small-scale fisheries. “It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach,” she said.

“It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, can we allow the sector to develop sustainably.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Damhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140183 Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Rural Women in Latin America Define Their Own Kind of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140182 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/feed/ 1 Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clean Cookstoves Could Change the Lives of Millions in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:28:18 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140163 In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
PHARPING, Nepal, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

When 26-year-old Laxmi married into the Archaya household in Chhaimale village, Pharping, south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she didn’t think she would be spending half the day in the kitchen inhaling smoke from the stove.

“The smoke made me cough so much I couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to cook,” the young woman tells IPS.

“[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems.” -- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
At the time, the family was using a rudimentary cookstove, the kind that has been found to be inefficient, unsafe and unhealthy. These stoves release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrous oxide, cause burns and sometimes disfigurement and put million of people – particularly women – at risk of severe health problems.

The toxic gases are known to create respiratory problems, pneumonia, blindness, heart diseases, cancer and even low birth rates. Every year 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by it.

Six months ago, Laxmi and her father-in-law realised that the women in their neighbourhood, a village of about 4,000 people, were getting their housework done faster and had free time to do other things.

When Laxmi’s father-in-law went to investigate, he found that they were using improved cookstoves and the family immediately decided to upgrade.

“I wanted to install improved cookstoves before, but I didn’t have an idea of how to go about it, or what organisations I could approach to ask for help,” Damodar Acharya, Laxmi’s father-in-law, tells IPS.

Fortunately for the Acharya family, the U.S.-based organisation Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had been working in the village and helping communities build mud-brick clean stoves with locally available materials.

Unlike traditional stoves, clean cookstoves have airtight chambers that prevent smoke from escaping into cramped kitchens. They also have small chimneys through which poisonous exhausts can exit the house.

“The [organisation] took 500 rupees [about five dollars] from us, but they did everything, including mixing raw materials, building the stove and teaching us how to clean them every few weeks,” Damodar Acharya explains.

According to Khila Ghale, of GPF-Nepal, the five-dollar fee includes “the labour charges of the stove master to build the stove, the cost of bricks, three or four types of rods, and the materials that make up the chimney.”

The entire cost of a two-hole mud brick stove ranges between 12 and 15 dollars. There is no government subsidy on improved cookstoves, so organisations like GPF help financially whenever they can.

However, the amount is still too much for most families in Nepal, where more than 75 percent of the population earns less than 1.25 dollars per day.

Ghale, who works directly with communities in raising awareness about the benefits of improved cookstoves, says in order to make them sustainable, it is important to monitor their use, talk to the communities about the benefits and challenges and make them aware that the stoves have to be properly maintained.

“The stove is sustainable but it has to be cleaned [and] repaired properly for long term use. It is unreasonable to expect it to work forever, but if maintained properly, it can be sustainable,” he says.

“If we can make families aware of the benefits, especially about the health benefits for women and children, the stoves [could] become an essential part of the household.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, over 80 percent of Nepali people use solid fuels such as wood and cow dung for cooking. In this country of 28 million, over 75 percent of households cook indoors, and 90 percent cook on open fires.

In January 2013 the government of Nepal announced clean cooking solutions for all by 2017. This initiative is in line with the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves project, which aims to adopt clean cooking solutions for 100 million households worldwide by 2020.

The Global Alliance claims, “[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems.”

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the three billion people worldwide who rely on solid fuels and indoor open fires for cooking suffer severe health impacts from the pollution. More men, women and children die each day as a result of exposure to indoor air pollution than die from malaria and tuberculosis.

A few weeks after the Acharya family built their clean cookstove, Laxmi’s neighbour Durga and her husband decided they also wanted one.

Durga Sharma tells IPS, “I have to cook early in the morning because I have two kids who go to school.” Using an improved cookstove has made her life easier, she says, and is keeping her family healthier.

Nepali women like Durga and Laxmi spend over five hours in the kitchen every day. Today, with improved cookstoves their cooking time is cut in half, and they have to use 50 percent less firewood.

In addition, they are much more environmentally-friendly than burning solid fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) black carbon, which traditional cookstoves produce, is the second biggest climate pollutant after carbon dioxide.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Asia says accounts for 40 percent of black carbon, which is responsible for altering monsoon patterns, adversely impacting agriculture and damaging water supplies. Thus, experts say, implementing cleaner cooking solutions for millions of households worldwide will feed automatically into global goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Back in Chhaimale village, around midday, Laxmi and Durga have already finished their housework for the day, and have even had the time to run errands.

Both women want to use the extra time they have to do what they love: Durga hopes to sell sundried vegetables in the local market and Laxmi is thinking about joining evening classes to complete her Masters degree programme, options they would simply not have had before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Antigua Draws a Line in the Vanishing Sandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:32:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140156 A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, features a mile-long white sand beach and is a favourite with locals and visitors alike. 

But Freeston Williams, a resident who frequents the area for exercise and other recreational activities, is worried that the beach is quickly disappearing."We believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.” -- Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne

“I travel around the Jabberwock area on the northern side of the island and I notice the shoreline is coming in closer to the road which means that it’s minimising the area we use for exercise,” Williams told IPS.”I am not sure what exactly is causing all this but sooner or later we will not have any beach left.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne said the sea level is in fact rising and she is mobilising legislators and residents of the small island-nation to become “climate ready” by implementing national activities on climate change.

“In the past 10 years we have experienced three droughts in Antigua. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea will have summer temperatures all the time. This means hurricane season will be all year round,” Black-Layne told IPS.

Pointing to the consequences of a two-degree C increase in global temperatures as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Black-Layne said there would be disruption of livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

“For persons living in the tropics it will just be too hot, every building will have to be air-conditioned – schools, churches, clinics, prisons,” she said.

“There would also be failure of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and buildings; plants and animals, including humans, would die during periods of extreme heat; there will be a breakdown of agricultural systems resulting in food prices increasing; there will be insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity; and tropical species of fish will move to cooler waters resulting in a reduction of fishing in the Caribbean.”

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and is the leading sector in terms of providing employment and creating foreign exchange. But the outlook for reefs in this tourism-dependent nation is also grim.

At around 1.5 degrees C, about 89 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching; at two degrees C, up to 100 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching by the 2050s; and around four degrees C, virtually all coral reefs would be subjected to severe bleaching events annually.

Signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, world leaders agreed to keep temperature increases resulting from heat-trapping emissions to less than two degrees C, a target aimed at limiting dangerously disruptive climate impacts.

A policy target informed by science, two degrees C is the formally codified benchmark, the line in the sand by which nations have agreed to measure collective success in providing  generations to come with a secure climate future.

The IPCC said global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85 degrees C since 1900 and cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. It finds that having a greater than 66 percent probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below two degrees C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC).

At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), the world will hurtle past the two C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don’t continue on their current upward trajectory of 3 percent per year.

In a bid to increase awareness of climate change here, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is spearheading a two-day workshop Apr. 14-15 under its Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC) project, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An OECS official said participants are being updated on the current awareness levels on the island and will brainstorm to determine ways to increase the nation’s consciousness. Participants are drawn from the sectors most affected by climate change.

“It will specifically seek to discuss the climate ready campaign which is currently ongoing, including results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey on climate change awareness in the OECS,” OECS Communication Specialist Tecla Fontenard told IPS.

“We have data that shows what levels of awareness people already have and where the gaps are and we also have data from Antigua. The workshop will also determine priorities for a communication action plan for Antigua that considers critical climate change issues in four major sectors – agriculture, tourism, marine and coastal as well as the water sector.”

Antigua and other countries in the OECS have a heightened vulnerability to many of the economic and environmental pressures that are emerging globally. This vulnerability, coupled with fragile natural and cultural assets and inherent social challenges, presents a special urgency to the sustainable development goals of the region.

Climate change, one of the most significant ongoing challenges to countries in the OECS, is forecast to have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences on OECS countries and Black-Layne said the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have to develop adaptation strategies, during the next two terms, in order to address several issues including sea level rise and salt water intruding below the island to affect all wells.

“A significant 100 percent of potable water will have to come from desalination, the conch industry will be damaged because of ocean acidification and fisher folk will have to adapt and move into other areas of work,” she said.

But Black-Layne said all is not lost.

“From the Environment Division perspective, when you hear the pronouncements and the predicted impacts of climate change on our country it’s not very encouraging. In fact it’s very depressing and the temptation would be to say what’s the point of doing what we’re doing,” she said.

“But we believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cyclone Pam Worsens Hardship in Port Vila’s Urban Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:06:34 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140133 Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which swept through the South Pacific Island state of Vanuatu in mid-March, has deepened hardships faced by people living in the informal settlements of the capital, Port Vila. Winds of up to 340 kph and torrential rain shattered precarious homes, cut off fragile public services and flooded communities with unsealed roads, poor drainage and sanitation.

“Eighty percent of my community has been affected by the cyclone,” Joel, a Port Vila resident, told IPS, describing that his house was damaged by gale force winds. “We have enough food, but the quality of the water has been very bad.”

“Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge." -- Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office
Other city residents saw their homes completely destroyed. In the last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found 50 people still sheltering in a shed-like structure in the informal settlements a month after the cyclone. They are in need of food, water and sanitation as they wait for assistance to rebuild their homes.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands and an estimated 265,000 people located northeast of Australia. Sixty-three percent of the population, or close to 166,000 people, were affected by Cyclone Pam, which counted a death toll of 11 and is thought to be the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

The main urban centre of Port Vila, situated on the southwest coast of Efate Island, is very exposed to severe weather and sea surges. An estimated 30-40 percent of its 44,000 residents live in informal settlements, such as Freswota and Seaside. Here, sub-standard housing, inadequate basic services and overcrowding all contribute to a poverty rate of 18 percent in Port Vila, in contrast to 10 percent in rural areas.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said, “Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge. Bridges and roads have also been damaged and that will definitely be a high cost in the recovery effort.”

Frido Herinckx, head of the International Red Cross support team in Vanuatu, told IPS that he had witnessed serious damage in the urban settlements. “During the first week after the cyclone there were 43 evacuation centres in Port Vila supporting 4,000-5,000 people,” he said.

United Nations Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said this past Friday that only 36 percent of the U.N.’s ‘flash appeal’ for 30 million dollars has so far been pledged. He called attention to the fact that 111,000 people have no access to safe drinking water, and warned that the destruction of 90 percent of the country’s crops spelled danger for those who rely on agriculture for a livelihood.

While most people live in rural areas, urbanisation, driven by people seeking jobs and services, is happening at a rapid rate of four percent in Vanuatu, exceeding the state’s capacity to scale up urban planning. One quarter of the national population is now urban and that is predicted to increase to 53 percent by 2050.

Situated on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and in a tropical climate zone south of the equator, with a cyclone season from November to April, the developing island state is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and tsunamis.

It has been hit by at least 20 damaging cyclones in the past 25 years and only one year has passed since Cyclone Lusi impacted 20,000 people across northern and central provinces, destroying villages and crops, in 2014. According to the United Nations, Vanuatu has the most exposed population to natural disasters in the world, at 63.6 percent.

The vulnerability of the urban population is heightened by the makeshift state of 27 percent of houses in the capital. Constructing a strong, resilient house is too expensive and financial credit is unaffordable for many residents who live on low wages.

In the Freswota settlement area, home to 7,000-8,000 people, Chief Kalanga Sawia explained, “The government’s objective is to provide housing for the people, but they can only provide the land. The government doesn’t have the financial resources to build houses as well.”

Therefore, people have turned to building improvised dwellings as best they can with salvaged or cheaply bought materials, such as timber, corrugated iron, tin and fabric.

While power, water and communication services were all crippled by the disaster, Herinckx said, “[B]asic services are now back to the state they were before the cyclone, which is not optimal.”

Residents of the Freswota 2 sub-settlement, for instance, usually have access to a water supply, but only half have electricity. Across the country, only 28 percent of people have access to electricity and 64 percent to sanitation.

Recognising the threat disasters pose to lives, development efforts and the economy, the Vanuatu Government has worked to strengthen the nation’s disaster preparedness.

Nine years ago, it became the first Pacific Island country to integrate disaster risk management into national planning and, in 2013, a new state-of-the-art disaster warning centre capable of monitoring volcanic, seismic, and tsunami activity, operating 24/7, opened in Port Vila.

As Cyclone Pam approached, new technology was used to issue warnings and advice to people via text messages, reaching more than 80 percent of the population.

However, as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Vanuatu has minimal capacity to cope with the relentless destructive toll of catastrophes year upon year. Korisa, of the National Disaster Management Office, claims that post-disaster recovery in Port Vila’s settlements will be very slow and hindered by land tenure issues, finance and resource constraints.

Currently the Red Cross is helping people in the settlements to build back better after the cyclone “by advising people on simple methods of building homes so they are more stress resistant,” Herinckx said.

But looking to the future, Korisa emphasised that more investment is needed in urban disaster risk reduction measures.

“For instance, the building code needs to be applied and enforced in all dwellings, including private, commercial and public buildings, and land use planning policy needs to be improved and implemented.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nepal: A Trailblazer in Biodiversity Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 04:01:35 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140118 Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent’s 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river’s edge.

“A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.” -- Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
“The sight of humans drives them away,” explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government’s wildlife conservation efforts here.

“We need to return now,” he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country’s once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal’s efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal’s example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone’ areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal’s 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, “A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.”

 

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal’s latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country’s declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees’ and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups’.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 “involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland”, according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world’s flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the “top”, experts say.

“There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level,” Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

“Conservation is a long process and Nepal’s efforts have shown that good planning works […],” Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Moment of Truth for the Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 05:22:23 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140067

In this column, Norwegian lawyer Fredrik S. Heffermehl* and Swedish civil servant Tomas Magnusson* argue that in recent years the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not reflected the hope of the award’s founder – Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) – that the world be freed of weapons, warriors and war, or promoted the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson
OSLO, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

The Nobel Peace Prize is about to bow out to critics. As of Jan. 1, the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winners has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who announced that “changes loom” in a recent interview.

However, Njølstad added, the changes “will not be dramatic”, making it unlikely that they will satisfy the full makeover demanded by The Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a newly-formed advocacy group wishing to reverse and undo international militarism.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In a letter sent in February to the Nobel Prize awarders, the group pointed to the purpose Alfred Nobel actually had in mind and presented a selection of candidates among the 276 nominated for the 2015 prize who are actually qualified to win. The Nobel Prize awarders have promised to respond to the letter, which, along with the valid candidates, is posted on the group´s website.

The group has chosen to ignore the wishes of the Nobel Committee that has a policy of strict secrecy around candidates and the selection process. By publishing, for the first time, the full nominations of the 25 “valid candidates”, the group has made it possible for everyone to see what types of peace work Nobel actually intended the prize to promote and its “imperative urgency” in the current period.

For over one hundred years, the secrecy rule has shielded the awarders from being held responsible for its neglect of the true Nobel “champions of peace” and they have been able to get away with assertions that the winners Nobel had in mind no longer exist.

According to the group this is untrue. It says that the committee ignores the simple, indisputable – and never disputed – evidence showing that when he designated his prize to the “champions of peace”, Nobel “meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarised world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.”

Tomas Magnusson

Tomas Magnusson

To make the prize comply with its actual purpose will require a dramatic change of the award policy. The Nobel Peace Prize Watch therefore doubts that the impending changes, described as “undramatic”, will be sufficient to satisfy the legislation on wills and foundations and the decisions of two public agencies in Sweden tasked with overseeing that foundations spend their funds in accordance with the law.

Even if the nominations are secret, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch was able to identify 24 names properly nominated for the 2015 prize. The list of valid candidates for 2015 is dominated by Americans and by people involved is nuclear disarmament, with nominees like Japanese hibakusha (nuclear survivors) Samiteru Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow; U.S. lawyer Peter Weiss and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Further candidates are David Swanson, the U.S. activist for full disarmament; whistleblowers Kathryn Bolkovac, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all from the United States; veteran organisers of a law-based world order, such as lawyers Benjamin Ferencz and Richard Falk, also from the United States; and the Womens´ International League for Peace and Freedom, formed during the First World War.

It seems as if Norwegian politicians, imbued in Western militarism and loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), are unable to understand Nobel´s idea of peace: to liberate the nations of the world from weapons, warriors and war. The idea to be supported by his will was that all nations must cooperate on disarmament.

Laureates like U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 and the European Union in 2012 both believe in military means and clearly are not the type of winners to whom Nobel dedicated his award.

If the world succeeded in realising the Nobel peace plan, this would release enormous funds to cater to human needs. It would cost only a tiny fraction of the world´s military expenditure to secure everyone access to food, clean water, housing, education, health care. It would become possible to secure decent circumstances for all people, all over the globe, poor and rich, East and West, North and South – and make them more secure in the bargain.

To a realist it must be obvious that a world filled with weapons and warriors, even nuclear weapons, is inherently an unsafe world.

In the letter requesting changes, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch refers to basic rules of law regarding wills and foundations and furthermore invokes decisions passed by two Swedish public agencies during the last few years.

The authorities expect the purpose of the Nobel testament to be respected and also that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm will keep its Norwegian sub-committee for the peace prize under strict and effective supervision and also refrain from paying the prize amount to a winner outside the purpose Nobel actually had in mind.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, elected by the Parliament of Norway, now has until Apr. 17 to decide whether it will serve the great mandate that Nobel entrusted to it, to illuminate and promote the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel in his will called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

Governments and citizens all over the world should unite in demanding that Norwegian parliamentarians respect Nobel and help liberate us all from the very dangerous common enemy called militarism. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer, former Vice President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and author of Peace is Possible and The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. Tomas Magnusson is a Swedish civil servant in immigration and integration issues, and former president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB). The two are founding members of the Lay Down Your Arms Association and organisers of The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

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In Belize, Climate Change Drives Coastal Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-belize-climate-change-drives-coastal-management/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 18:05:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140100 Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

Fishermen from across Belize will see major benefits from the MCCAP project, which seeks to re-train them in alternative livelihoods to lessen the impact of climate change in their communities. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

A five-year project launched here in Belize City in March seeks to cement a shift in view of climate change and its impact on Belize’s national development.

The Belize Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Project (MCCAP) has dual goals: putting in place structures to ensure continued protection for marine protected areas, and ensuring that those who benefit from use and enjoyment of those areas are educated on the dangers of climate change and given means of sustaining their lifestyles without further damage to precious natural resources.“Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue." -- Enos Esikuri of the World Bank

Approximately 203,000 Belizeans live in coastal communities – both urban centres such as Belize City and the towns of Corozal and Dangriga, as well as destinations for fishing and tourism such as the villages of Sarteneja, Hopkins, Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia.

For these persons, and for Belize, “Climate change is not an environmental issue. Climate change is a development issue,” said World Bank representative and senior environmental specialist Enos Esikuri, who noted that keeping the focus on the environment on this issue would result in “losing the audience” – those who make their living directly from the sea through fishing and tourism.

According to Esikuri, there has been a change in Belize’s economy from a purely agriculture base to a service-based economy with tourism as a primary focus – but the marine resources in Belize’s seas and rivers are integral to the success of that model.

Belize also has to pay attention to the intensification of weather systems and how the reef protects Belize’s fragile coast and communities, he said.

Of Belize’s three billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP), fishing accounts for 15 percent; 4,500 licensed fishermen and about 18,000 Belizeans are directly dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods.

However, tourism accounts for almost 25 percent of GDP and a significantly greater population living in coastal communities earn their livelihoods from this industry, Esikuri explained.

The Barrier Reef and its fish are a very important resource for this industry, he said, so protecting it safeguards more livelihoods.

The local Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development has received 5.53 million dollars from the World Bank’s Adaptation Fund, with the government contributing a further 1.78 million dollars for the programme, which seeks to implement priority ecosystem-based marine conservation and climate adaptation measures to strengthen the climate resilience of the Belize Barrier Reef system.

The MCCAP project will invest 560,000 U.S. dollars to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, and educate people about the value of marine conservation, and how climate change will affect their lives.

The project will explore and develop strategies to help coastal communities become more resilient to climate change, and will encourage community exchange visits to help the people learn how they can adapt to climate change.

Project Coordinator Sandra Grant says that of the three components to the project – upgrades to existing protected areas in Corozal, at Turneffe Atoll and in South Water Caye off Placencia, developing community-based business ventures in aquaculture, agriculture and tourism and raising awareness on the impact of climate change and developing and exploring climate resilient strategies – it is the second one that she expects will have the most impact.

“We are going to look at the marine protected areas, but at the same time we are going to start the livelihood activities, because sometimes if you don’t show people the alternatives, then they will not buy in to what you are trying to do. So although it is three different components we decided to put them together simultaneously,” Grant said.

The selected protected areas were identified as priority by the project because of their contribution to the environment.

She added that fishermen and other stakeholders will be able to take advantage of new strategies for economic benefit such as seaweed planting, sea cucumber harvesting and diversification of business into value-added products.

Part of the project will help finance community-based projects to create small-scale seaweed farms to take advantage of the global demand for seaweed for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even in ice cream.

A cooperative in Placencia has already pioneered growing and drying seaweed for export. The bottom-feeding sea cucumber could become a cash cow as a prized delicacy and medicinal property in Asia and China.

Belize already exports about 400,000 pounds per year and prices range from 4-8 Belizean dollars per pound though the dried product fetches as much as 150 U.S. dollars per pound internationally. Again, one cooperative already has investments in this area.

Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve and South Water Caye Marine Reserve will install various features to assist in protection of their native marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral nurseries for the latter two.

Each of the components has its own budget and will be pursued simultaneously with each other.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Land Seizures Speeding Up, Leaving Africans Homeless and Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 12:54:23 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140077 An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

There is a new scramble for Africa, with ordinary people facing displacement by the affluent and the powerful as huge tracts of land on the continent are grabbed by a minority, rights activists here say.

“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Civil society activist Owen Dliwayo, who is programme officer for the Youth Dialogue Action Network, another lobby group here, said multinational companies were to blame in most African countries for land seizures.“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land” - Claris Madhuku, Zimbabwe’s Platform for Youth Development (PYD)

“I can give you an example of the Chisumbanje ethanol fuel project here in Chipinge. The project resulted in thousands of villagers being displaced to pave way for a sugar plantation so that thousands of hectares of land space could be created for the ethanol-producing project, consequently displacing poor villagers,” Dliwayo told IPS.

The 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation which started in 2008 left more than 1,754 households displaced, according to PYD.

Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe embarked on a controversial land reform programme to address colonial land-ownership imbalances, but activists have dismissed the move as disastrous for this Southern African nation.

“To say African nations like Zimbabwe addressed the land problem is untrue because land which African governments like Zimbabwe grabbed from white farmers was parcelled out to political elites at the expense of hordes of peasants here,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean rights activist, told IPS.

“Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances,” he added.

In 2010, ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean news service, reported that about 2,200 well-connected black Zimbabwean elites controlled nearly 40 percent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from white farmers, with each farm ranging in size from 250 to 4,000 hectares, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his family said to own 14 farms spanning at least 16,000 hectares.

Further up in East Africa, according to a 2011 presentation by Uganda’s Joshua Zake titled ‘Land Grabbing; silent pain for smallholder farmers in Uganda’, key characters of land grabbing in that country are also a few wealthy or powerful individuals against many vulnerable individuals or communities.

Zake is Senior Programme Officer Environment and Natural Resources and Coordinator of the Uganda Forestry Working Group at Environmental Alert.

According to Zake, land grabbing in Africa, particularly in Uganda, is promoted by the suspected presence of oil and other mineral resources beneath the land, such as in Uganda’s Amuru and Bulisa districts.

Zake’s remarks fit well with Zimbabwe’s situation, where more than 800 families were displaced by government from Chiadzwa in Manicaland Province after the discovery of diamonds there in 2005.

But land grabs in Africa may also be rampant in towns and cities, according to private land developers here.

“There is high demand of land for the construction of homes in towns and cities across Africa owing to the sharp rural-to-urban migration,” Etuna Nujoma, a private land developer based in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, told IPS.

“The wealthy and the powerful as well as the corrupt politicians are taking advantage of the land demand and therefore often parcelling out urban land amongst themselves for resale at exorbitant prices at the expense of the poor.”

Last year, irked by corrupt local authorities appearing to be dishing out land among themselves for resale, a group of informal settlement dwellers outside Namibia’s coastal holiday town of Swakopmund occupied municipal land with the intention of settling there.

With land grabs at their peak in Zimbabwe, members of the ruling Zanu-PF party are measuring out land pieces which they then give to people who pay in the range of 10 to 20 dollars for 30 to 50 square metres, depending on the areas in which they want to obtain housing stands, according to Andrew Nyanyadzi of Zanu-PF.

“We don’t need permission from local authorities for us to have access to the land which our liberation war leaders fought for. It’s our land and we are therefore selling at affordable prices to ruling party loyalists,” Nyanyadzi told IPS.

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Consequently, lobby groups in Zimbabwe say havoc rules supreme in the country’s towns and cities.

“In Harare, land belonging to the city has been taken over by known militant groups of people with links to Zanu-PF, whom police here are even afraid to apprehend,” Precious Shumba, the director of Harare Residents Trust, told IPS.

“This is exactly what happened to Harare’s urban land in Hatcliff high density area, where housing cooperatives belonging to the ruling Zanu-PF leaders have grabbed council land using their political power,” Shumba said.

However, like other countries across Africa, Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit individuals or organisations from selling land that does not legally belong to them.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, the poor are losing out to foreign investors on land rights there despite the state being the sole owner of land.

Under the country’s constitution, there is no private land ownership – land and its associated resources are the property of the state – although the country’s Land Law grants private persons the right to use and benefit from the land whether or not they have a formal title. However, loopholes have emerged in the law.

A survey last year by Mozambique’s National Farmers’ Union showed that there was a colonial-era style land grab there, with politically-connected companies in the former Portuguese colony seizing hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants.

According to GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, peasants in northern Mozambique have difficulties keeping their lands as foreign companies set up large-scale agribusinesses there.

The NGO says Mozambicans are being told that these projects will bring them benefits, but this is not how Caesar Guebuza and other Mozambican peasants see it.

“Agricultural investments by foreign companies have not benefitted us, but rather we have lost land to these companies investing here and we are being treated as aliens in our own land,” Guebuza told IPS.

Economists blame the Mozambican government for favouring foreign investors, who now possess large swathes of state land.

“The Mozambican government is known for siding with foreign investors who now occupy huge tracts of land for their own use as local peasants lose out on land, which is their birth right,” Kingston Nyakurukwa, a Zimbabwean independent economist, told IPS.

With foreign investors acquiring huge tracts of land ahead of locals in Africa, ActionAid Tanzania earlier this year said that through the European Union, United States and several European countries, the European Union’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition plans to invest 7.57 billion euros in agricultural development and food security across Africa.

However, said Nyakurukwa, these will be business ventures that will strip Africans of their hard-earned money as they buy agricultural produce.

Similarly, in Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, smallholder farmers are being moved off their land, paving the way for sugarcane, rice and other export crop-growing projects backed by New Alliance money, according to ActionAid Tanzania’s findings.

For Africans in Tanzania, big money might be gradually rendering them landless.

“Money from investors seem to be elbowing us out of our native lands here in Tanzania as no one has been offered the choice of whether to be resettled or not as we are being forcibly offered money or land for resettlement,” Moses Malunguja, a disgruntled peasant from Tanzania, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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“Food Safety Policies Are Globally Necessary” Says World Health Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/food-safety-policies-are-globally-necessary-says-world-health-organisation/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 10:13:04 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140075 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

To mark World Health Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world and all sectors involved in the food business to introduce food safety policies into their political agendas.

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, WHO’s Executive Director, Jacob Kumaresan, said, “(Governments) should have comprehensive food safety policies which are matched with appropriate legislation. (This means) robust food safety strategies which include good storage, transportation, retail and good restaurant practices.”

Kumaresan also called for a “multi-sectoral collaboration, as food passes through multiple hands, from farm to plates. This is a test for governmental ability to foster dialogue and coordination between the health sectors, along with agriculture, trade, environment and tourism sectors.”

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, “Changes to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed, the emergence of resistant bacteria, and increases in travel and trade make it difficult to manage pathogens and contaminants once they are in our food supply.”

This year, WHO’s slogan “from farm to plate: make food safe” has been chosen because of its impact on public health and upon the global economy, explained Kumaresan.

Today access to direct food supply is widespread, said Kumaresan. “However, food also contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and sometimes chemicals substance, which are responsible for 200 diseases,” such as diarrhoea, heart diseases and cancer, he added.

“Unsafe food is a largely under-reported and an often overlooked global problem,” said Ban, adding that, “With the food supply chain stretching around the world, the need to strengthen food safety systems within and among countries is becoming more critical.”

According to WHO, food and waterborne diseases are linked to approximately 2 million deaths per year. The top offender bacteria are Salmonella Typhi and E.Coli, and the two most problematic areas for food safety are Africa and South Asia.

Environmental problems are a threat to food security, highlighted Kumaresan.

“Climate change offers difficulties in food production and distributions, biological and environmental contaminations, and anti-microbial resistance.”

Increases in travel and trade can pose challenges to food safety, as a local issue can easily become an international emergency, which requires a lot of money to contain, with consequences for the reputations of farms or countries where the food was produced, he added.

Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak, for example, caused 1.3 billion dollars in losses for farmers and industries, said Kumaresan.

“For the consumer, we need to handle food properly and we need to use basic hygiene,” concluded Kumaresan.

The WHO has developed five keys for people to handle food in a safer way. First, maintain hygiene practices – wash hands before eating, wash vegetable and fruits – second, separate raw food from cooked food. Thirdly, cook food thoroughly, so the heat can kill the germs. Fourthly, keep food in a safe temperature. Finally, use safe water while preparing food.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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