Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:23:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141347 An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

A key senator and a D.C.-based think tank are calling for Washington to step up its aid in cleaning up toxic herbicides sprayed by the United States in Vietnam during the war that ended 40 years ago.

Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank here, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long led the efforts in the U.S. Congress to compensate Vietnamese war victims, called on Washington to do more, arguing that it will further bolster renewed ties between the two countries.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get to. We need more assistance.” -- Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
Leahy’s remarks were echoed by Charles Bailey, former director of Aspen Institute’s Agent Orange in Vietnam Program – a multi-year initiative to deal with health and environmental impacts of the estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides that were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1970.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh expressed similar sentiments at the event.

Hanoi’s ambassador said his government has been spending 45 million dollars every year to deal with the many problems created by Agent Orange and other herbicides used by U.S. military forces during the war.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get,” he said. “We need more assistance.”

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese people were affected, including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Those who bore the brunt of the chemical spraying suffered cancer, liver damage, severe skin and nervous disorders and heart disease. The children and even grandchildren of people exposed to Agent Orange have been born with deformities, defects, disabilities and diseases.

Huge expanses of forest and jungle, including the natural habitats of several species, were devastated. Many of these species are still threatened with extinction.

In some areas, rivers were poisoned and underground water sources contaminated. Erosion and desertification as a result of the herbicide sprays made barren fields out of once-fertile farmlands.

The United States currently funds aid operations in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Bailey, 136 million dollars have been appropriated to date. But some observers of the programme say still more should be done.

Merle Ratner from the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign said that too little of the aid has gone to the people. Most of it is given to international NGOs, who are then contracted to do the work, she said.

“We are suggesting that the aid go directly to NGOs in Vietnam because who knows the people better than their own organisations?” Ratner told IPS.

“People should be involved in their own solutions to the situation.”

The renewed attention comes at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam have moved closer together, particularly in light of the two nations’ growing concerns over China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“I want to turn Agent Orange from being a symbol of antagonism into an area where the U.S and Vietnamese governments can work together,” Leahy said. “At a time when China is actively seeking to extend its sphere of influence and United States has begun its own re-balance towards Asia, these Vietnam legacy programs have taken on greater significance.”

The general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phy Trong, is scheduled to visit the United States this year, the first such trip by the nation’s ruling party chief.

The warming relationship has helped Leahy further his cause. Leahy met with much resistance in the early 2000s when Washington was clearly reluctant to take responsibility for the destruction wrought by its forces during the war in which an estimated two million Vietnamese and some 55,000 U.S. troops were killed.

Vietnam, on the other hand, put the issue on the backburner as it focused on gaining preferential trade status (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) for exports to the huge U.S. market.

While Washington and Hanoi established full diplomatic relations in 1995, it wasn’t until 2002 that the two governments held a joint conference on the impact of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam and its people.

In Dec. 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act that specifically makes available funds for the remediation of dioxin contaminated areas in Vietnam.

Much of those funds have been earmarked for a clean-up project at the former giant U.S. military base at Da Nang, which is 824 km from the capital, Hanoi. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides over many parts of rural Vietnam, destroying millions of hectares of forests in an attempt to deny the Viet Cong insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies cover and food.

Two-thirds of the herbicide contains dioxin. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, dioxin is a compound found to cause cancer and diabetes, as well as a host of other diseases.

A scientific report in 1969 also concluded that the herbicide can cause birth defects in laboratory animals, thus leading U.S. forces to halt the use of Agent Orange in 1970.

A 1994 Institute of Medicine study records that there was a growing number of Vietnam veterans who have fathered handicapped children. Many still dispute the link between Agent Orange and birth defects—Vietnam veterans in the United States still cannot claim benefits for birth defects in their children.

While welcoming Washington’s new aid programme, some activists who have long called for the U.S. to help Vietnam address the problems left behind by Agent Orange insist that U.S. should both do more and provide more direct assistance to Vietnamese groups on the ground who believe that the United States’ funds could be better distributed.

Susan Hammond, executive director of the War Legacies Project, said she hopes to see more of the money go to rural Vietnam.

“U.S. funding, at this point, is pretty much limited to the Da Nang area,” Hammond said. “In rural areas, families are pretty much left on their own.”

Tim Rieser, Leahy’s chief staffer with the Senate subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, recalled that it was initially very difficult to obtain any funding from the government.

“The State Department and Pentagon were very resistant to the idea of any kind of action by the U.S. that might be interpreted as reparations or compensation,” he said.

“It took over a year to reach an agreement with them that what we were talking about was not either of those things, but it was of trying to work with the Vietnamese government to address the problems that we obviously have responsibility for.”

Rieser said he is currently urging the Pentagon to help fund the cleanup of the Bien Hoa airbase, 1,702 km from the capital. He said the area could well contain even higher levels of dioxin than Da Nang. And he urged Obama to include additional money in his proposed 2016 budget.

“Ideally, if the president would include money in the budget, it would make our lives much easier,” he said. “But at the very least when there are opportunities – like when the president goes to Vietnam or the general secretary comes here – to reaffirm the commitment of both countries to continue working on this issue. [That] is almost as important as providing the funds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

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

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Helping People with Disabilities Become Agents of Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:14:04 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141310 Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Participation, political and economic empowerment, inclusion, accessible technology and infrastructure as well as indicators for meaningful implementation are among the key issues persons with disabilities want to see reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In light of the ongoing negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, people with disabilities are calling upon governments to put an end to exclusion and discrimination by making persons with disabilities and their rights more visible in the SDGs.“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion." -- Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Rachel Kachaje, Deputy Chairperson for Development and Under-Represented Groups at Disabled People’s International (DPI) in Lilongwe, Malawi and former Malawian Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, told IPS: “I would want to see the SDGs turning persons with disabilities into productive citizens in their respective countries.

“It pains me most of the time seeing persons with disabilities struggling to be recognised in society,” she said.

Rachel Kachaje knows what she is talking about. Struck by polio at the age of three, she lost the use of her legs. As her family could not afford a wheelchair, mobility challenges significantly complicated her primary and secondary school education. When she had finished school and was unable to attend university, finding a job proved very difficult at a time when companies refused to hire persons with physical impairments.

Yet, in the end, due to her hard-working spirit and encouraging family environment, Kachaje managed to overcome these challenges and steadily moved up the career ladder, culminating in her appointment as Malawian minister of disability.

The personal story of Rachel Kachaje illustrates how existing physical, societal, educational and professional barriers often prevent persons with disabilities from attaining their real potential and fully participating in society, while positive empowerment and encouragement can have important enabling effects.

Empowerment of persons with disabilities is indeed one of the core demands the activist enunciates. Speaking to IPS, Kachaje emphasised the importance of facilitating access to education as a “master key that unlocks all doors to life” and providing livelihood to allow for agricultural activity and food security. Apart from that, she said, health care services, social activities and greater involvement in politics are steps that will help persons with disabilities who are struggling to become fully productive citizens.

“I would want persons with disabilities in general and more in particular women with disabilities and their representative organisations to participate and be fully involved and consulted in government processes. […] This should not be just on paper only. I would want governments to walk the talk.”

As pointed out by the activist, considerable progress has taken place in Malawi in terms of inclusive education and economic as well as political empowerment.

“Schools are being made accessible, special needs teachers are being trained. There are still a lot of challenges but still something is being done and political will is there to make education inclusive,” she said.

“People with disabilities also get social cash transfer as part of economically empowering persons with disabilities. Some persons with disabilities have been appointed into decision making bodies.”

Two weeks ago, measures to overcome exclusion and mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities across the sustainable development agenda were discussed at the Eighth Session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP8) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The focus of this year’s conference was on poverty reduction, equality and development. As underscored by many speakers, disability and poverty are interrelated, which is due mainly to discrimination and lower education and employment levels.

A few days ahead of the conference, the zero draft of the outcome document for the U.N. Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda was released. In this context, many participants deplored that persons with disabilities were not specifically referred to in the first SDG, aimed at ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

According to Venkatesh Balakrishna, honorary president of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Global Network, “being invisible from the goal means being invisible from the benefits”. He called upon governments to explicitly mention persons with disabilities in the first SDG and add specific targets and indicators.

“Give hope to millions of people. Please use your pen for justice,” he urged.

Yet, compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), persons with disabilities have gained visibility in the zero draft document.

Priscille Geiser, Head of Technical Unit ‘Support to Civil Society’ at Handicap International, told IPS: “We do welcome the Zero Draft in which the inclusion and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the entire document is groundbreaking compared to the Millennium Development Goals, and we welcome the fact that references to persons with disabilities have been strengthened throughout the declaration.”

On the other hand, she said, there were still shortcomings in terms of accessible technology and concrete indicators to measure implementation. Also, more emphasis need to be put on active participation and involvement of persons with disabilities.

“It is critical that commitments are made so that the SDGs are implemented and reviewed through meaningful participation. Overall, the active role of people to be agents of change, rather than simply as beneficiaries, is highly underestimated in this new agenda.”

Throughout the conference, participants stressed the fact that inclusion should not be seen as charity, but as an investment in society that will generate economic benefits and improve life for everybody.

“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion,” said Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, with an eye on the lost economic potential due to the exclusion of children with disabilities from school and ongoing labour market discrimination.

Speaking about future challenges, she emphasised the need to translate the provisions under the convention into legal action on the ground, provide persons with disabilities with accessible services, including accessible infrastructure and better social protection, collect data, set concrete targets and indicators and support the creation of institutions. According to her, the ultimate goal is the full participation of persons with disabilities in community life.

These points were repeatedly raised by almost all participants, demonstrating remarkable consent on the steps that need to be taken. This gives cause for hope that further concerted procedures will increase the visibility of people with disabilities in the post-2015 development framework and steadily make the implementation of the CRPD a reality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Heat Wave Picking Off Pakistan’s Urban Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:23:52 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141304 Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.

Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time." -- Mohammad Bilal, head of the Edhi Foundation’s morgue
Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke.

Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat.

In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.

Every single resident is feeling the heat, but the majority of those who have succumbed to it come from Karachi’s army of poor, twice cursed by a lack of access to electricity and condemned to live in crowded, informal settlements that offer little respite from the scorching sun.

Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.

Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets, and likely included beggars, drug users and daily wage labourers with no choice but to defy government advisories to stay indoors until the blaze has passed.

Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

The government has come under fire for neglecting to sound the alarm in advance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah issued belated warnings by ordering the closure of schools and government offices.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

Experts say this highlights, yet again, the country’s utter lack of preparedness for climate-related tragedies.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

Energy and poverty

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation. In Karachi, the country’s most populous metropolis, these problems are magnified manifold.

Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.

More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre.

Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’.

Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual.

At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.

For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other.

Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Lashing out at the government’s indifference and belated response to the crisis, Dr. Tasneem Ahsan, former executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), tells IPS that preventive action could have saved countless lives.

“The government should have taken up large spaces like marriage halls and schools and turned them into shelters, supplying electricity and water for people to come and cool down there.”

She also says officials could have parked water bowsers in poorer localities for people to douse themselves, advised the population on appropriate clothing and distributed leaflets on simple ways to keep cool.

The media, too, are at fault, she contends, for reporting the death count like sports scores instead of spreading the word on cost-effective, life-saving tips “like putting a wet towel on the head”.

Government inaction

Intermittent protests against power outages, aimed largely at the city’s main power company, K-Electric, served as a prelude to the present tragedy.

Though the country has an installed electricity capacity of 22,797 MW, production stands at a dismal 16,000 MW. In recent years, electricity demand has risen to 19,000 MW, meaning scores of people are either sharing a single power line or going without energy.

Meanwhile, civil society has been stepping in to fill the void left by the government, with far better results than some official attempts to provide emergency relief.

With most hospitals paralyzed by the number of patients, volunteers like Dr. Tasneem Butt, working the JPMC, have taken matters into their own hands. Using social media as a platform, she has circulated a list of necessary items including 100-200 bed sheets, 500 towels, bottled water, 15-20 slabs of ice and – perhaps most importantly – more volunteers.

“I got them immediately,” she tells IPS. “Now I’ve asked people to hold on to their pledges while I arrange for chillers and air-conditioners.

“The emergency ward is suffocating,” she adds. “It’s not just the patients who need to be kept cool, even the overworked doctors need this basic environment to be able to work optimally.”

Last week, the government of the Sindh Province cancelled leave for medical personnel and brought in additional staff to cope with the deluge of patients, which is expected to increase as devout observers of the Holy Ramadan fast succumb to fatigue and hunger.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.

Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.

The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Costa Rican Women Try to Pull Legal Therapeutic Abortion Out of Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/costa-rican-women-try-to-pull-legal-therapeutic-abortion-out-of-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rican-women-try-to-pull-legal-therapeutic-abortion-out-of-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/costa-rican-women-try-to-pull-legal-therapeutic-abortion-out-of-limbo/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:21:01 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141285 In public hospitals in Costa Rica, like the Rafael Ángel Calderón hospital in San José, there is no protocol regulating legal therapeutic abortion, for doctors to follow. As a result, physicians restrict the practice to a minimum, leaving women without their right to terminate a pregnancy when their health is at risk. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In public hospitals in Costa Rica, like the Rafael Ángel Calderón hospital in San José, there is no protocol regulating legal therapeutic abortion, for doctors to follow. As a result, physicians restrict the practice to a minimum, leaving women without their right to terminate a pregnancy when their health is at risk. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The lack of clear regulations and guidelines on therapeutic abortion in Costa Rica means women depend on the interpretation of doctors with regard to the circumstances under which the procedure can be legally practiced.

Article 121 of Costa Rica’s penal code stipulates that abortion is only legal when the mother’s health or life is at risk. But in practice the public health authorities only recognise risk to the mother’s life as legal grounds for terminating a pregnancy.

“The problem is that there are many women who meet the conditions laid out in this article – they ask for a therapeutic abortion and it is denied them on the argument that their life is not at risk,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who belongs to the Collective for the Right to Decide, an organisation that defends women’s sexual and reproductive rights, told IPS.

“The problem isn’t the law, but the interpretation of the law,” said Arroyo.

She and other activists are pressing for Costa Rica to accept the World Health Organisation’s definition of health, which refers to physical, mental and social well-being, in connection with this issue.

Many doctors in public hospitals, unclear as to what to do when a pregnant woman requests an abortion, refuse to carry out the procedure regardless of the circumstances.

Illegal abortion in Costa Rica is punishable by three years in prison, or more if aggravating factors are found.

“It’s complicated because in the interactions we have had with doctors, they tell us: ‘Look, I would do it, but I’m not allowed to’,” said Arroyo.

Others say they have a conscientious objection to abortion, in this heavily Catholic country.

In Costa Rica, abortion is illegal in all other situations normally considered “therapeutic”, such as rape, incest, or congenital malformation of the fetus.

Activists stress the toll on women’s emotional health if they are forced to bear a child under such circumstances.

“Many women don’t ask for an abortion because they think it’s illegal,” Arroyo said. “If both women and doctors believe that, there’s no one to stick up for their rights.”

This creates critical situations for women like Ana and Aurora, two Costa Rican women who were carrying fetuses that would not survive, but which doctors did not allow them to abort.

In late 2006, a medical exam when Ana was six weeks pregnant showed that the fetus suffered from encephalocele, a malformation of the brain and skull incompatible with life outside the womb.

Ana, 26 years old at the time, requested a therapeutic abortion, arguing that carrying to term a fetus that could not survive was causing her psychological problems like depression. But the medical authorities and the Supreme Court did not authorise an abortion. In the end, her daughter was born dead after seven hours of labour.

The Collective for the Right to Decide and the Washington-based Center for Reproductive Rights brought Ana’s case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as that of Aurora, who was also denied the right to a therapeutic abortion.

Her case is similar to Ana’s. In 2012, it was discovered that her fetus had an abdominal wall defect, a kind of birth defect that allows the stomach, intestines, or other organs to protrude through an opening that forms on the abdomen. Her son, whose legs had never developed, and who had severe scoliosis, died shortly after birth.

In 2011, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern that “women do not have access to legal abortion because of the lack of clear medical guidelines outlining when and how a legal abortion can be conducted.”

It urged the Costa Rican state to draw up clear medical guidelines, to “widely disseminate them among health professionals and the public at large,” and to consider reviewing other circumstances under which abortion could be permitted, such as rape or incest.

The international pressure has grown. Costa Rican Judge Elizabeth Odio, recently named to the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, said in a Jun. 20 interview with the local newspaper La Nación that “it is obvious that therapeutic abortion, which already exists in our legislation, should be enforced.”

“There are doctors who believe therapeutic abortion is a crime, and they put women’s lives at risk,” said Odio.

In March, Health Minister Fernando Llorca acknowledged that “there is now a debate on the need for developing regulations on therapeutic abortion – a debate that was necessary.”

Activists are calling for a protocol to regulate legal abortion, established by the social security system, CCSS, which administers the public health system and health services, including hospitals. But progress towards a protocol has stalled since 2009.

“For several years we have been working on a protocol with the Collective and the CCSS,” said Ligia Picado, with the Costa Rican Demographic Association (ADC). “But once it was completed, the CCSS authorities referred it to another department, and the personal opinions of functionaries, more emotional than legal, were brought to bear.”

The activist, a member of one of the civil society organisations most heavily involved in defending sexual and reproductive rights, told IPS that “the problem is that there is no protocol or guidelines that health personnel can rely on to support the implementation of women’s rights.”

Picado said the need for the protocol is especially urgent for women whose physical or emotional health is affected by an unwanted pregnancy and who can’t afford to travel abroad for an abortion, or to have a safe, illegal abortion at a clandestine clinic in this country.

Statistics on abortions in this Central American country of 4.7 million people are virtually non-existent. According to 2007 estimates by ADC, 27,000 clandestine abortions are practiced annually. But there are no figures on abortions carried out legally in public or private health centres.

Groups of legislators have begun to press the CCSS to approve the protocol, and on Jun. 17 the legislature’s human rights commission sent a letter to the president of the CCSS.

“We hope the CCSS authorities will realise the need to issue the guidelines so that doctors are not allowed to claim objections of conscience and will be obligated to live up to Costa Rica’s laws and regulations,” opposition lawmaker Patricia Mora, one of the authors of the letter, told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville Election Intensifies Hopes for Independencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bougainville-election-intensifies-hopes-for-independence/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:09:09 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141273 The northern town of Buka was the focus of attention when the newly elected third Autonomous Bougainville Government was inaugurated on Jun. 15. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The northern town of Buka was the focus of attention when the newly elected third Autonomous Bougainville Government was inaugurated on Jun. 15. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

A referendum on independence within the next five years dominated campaigning in the recent general election held in Bougainville, an autonomous region of 300,000 people in the east of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which emerged from a decade-long civil war 15 years ago.

John Momis, a former Catholic priest who has been prominent in national politics for more than 40 years, was re-elected as president, acquiring 51,382 votes, well ahead of his nearest rival with 18,466.

“We are on the threshold of perhaps the most important and portentous five years in our history and to achieve all that is necessary in that period will require great unity, a tremendous sense of purpose, intense energy and an unwavering commitment to the course we intend to follow." -- John Momis, newly-elected president of Bougainville
He is Bougainville’s most experienced politician and peacetime leader and has won two of the three elections held since the formation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in 2005.

“We are on the threshold of perhaps the most important and portentous five years in our history and to achieve all that is necessary in that period will require great unity, a tremendous sense of purpose, intense energy and an unwavering commitment to the course we intend to follow,” Momis stated during the inauguration ceremony of the new government in the northern town of Buka on Jun. 15.

For the majority of candidates and more than 172,000 enrolled voters, the referendum, provided for in the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, symbolises their long held desire to reclaim political and economic control over the islands.

For more than a century, Bougainville was administered by Germany, Britain and then Australia before being incorporated into the state of Papua New Guinea upon its independence in 1975.

Then from 1989 to 1997 armed conflict erupted over grievances about inequity and environmental damage associated with the Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville, operated by the Australian-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, which further entrenched indigenous resolve for autonomy.

More than 50 percent of the mine’s revenues of around two billion dollars from 1972 to 1989 were claimed by British mining giant, Rio Tinto, and 19.06 percent by the PNG Government. Now the people of Bougainville want ownership of the region’s development and its benefits.

Peter Arwin, a landowner in Central Bougainville, told IPS that he “would like to see the government entering into serious negotiations on referendum and eventual independence for Bougainville as this will give the landowners opportunity to take part in independent decisions over our resources.”

Women are adamant, too, that their voices will be heard in public debate and decision-making after they were successful in gaining four of the 39 parliamentary seats. Three of the 35 female candidates took reserved seats and a fourth, Josephine Getsi, won the open constituency of Peit in Buka.

Barbara Tanne, executive officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation, said that the government must “focus on the path to achieving a peace at the end by addressing the three pillars of the peace agreement” by 2020, the date by which the referendum is to be held. These include good governance and successful disarmament.

Recent reports indicate that about 2,000 arms are still in the possession of communities and former militia groups and restoring unity across the region through post-conflict reconciliation remains an ongoing process.

From the grassroots to the elite, expectations of independence as the key to a better future and the improvement of people’s lives are immense and the incoming government has acknowledged the challenges.

“Since the late 1990s we have made progress in restoring health and education services destroyed during the conflict. But service standards are worse than before the conflict. The ABG [Autonomous Bougainville Government] must solve the problems faced by our people,” Momis declared during his inauguration speech.

An urgent priority is addressing high unemployment and illiteracy among youth who make up more than 50 percent of the population. Meanwhile an estimated 56 percent of people in Central Bougainville do not have access to safe drinking water, and hardship in families is being impacted by violence against women, worsened by untreated post-conflict trauma.

The first hurdle to surmount is, even with a majority yes vote at referendum, full self-government depends on a joint agreement with the PNG government that the conditions of the peace agreement have been met.

Fiscal self-reliance – crucial for delivering infrastructure and services – is another, with 89 percent of the Bougainville government’s revenues last year, totaling 312 million kina (114 million dollars), provided by the PNG Government and international donors.

Options debated by the region’s leaders for increasing government revenues include a return to mining and developing the agricultural industry.

Over the next half decade, the new autonomous government has much to live up to, most of all the people’s hopes and dreams of progress toward equality and inclusive development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Young People Lend a Hand to Trinidad’s Ailing Watershedshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:00:52 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141258 Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Starting in 1999, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) of Trinidad and Tobago began a 10-year effort to map the country’s water quality. They started to notice a worrying trend.

The watersheds in the western region of Trinidad had progressed from being of moderate quality in some places to being outright bad. By 2010, a survey of the country showed more than 20 per cent of the watersheds were in serious trouble.“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.” -- Dr. Natalie Boodram

“We have raised the alarm bell,” said senior hydrologist David Samm. ”WASA is concerned.”

WASA received a lot of bad press during the recently concluded dry season. Residents whose communities were roiled with protests almost weekly over lack of access to potable water vehemently criticised the agency while waving placards and publicly burning tyres.

WASA is the designated body responsible for all of Trinidad and Tobago’s water sources and supply.

But factors beyond its control, like climate change and climate variability, are significant contributors to the crisis.

“During the dry season we would have longer droughts so we will not have as much water for groundwater recharge,” explained Samm, adding, “there is more intense rainfall for a given time period and because of continued development we have more flooding problems during the rainy season.”

That has resulted in more surface runoff “and that water is being flushed through the watercourses and out to sea. Therefore, we have less recharge of our groundwater systems,” he explained.

He told IPS that 60 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water comes from surface water sources.

There has also been major housing construction along the east-west corridor of Trinidad, he pointed out. “With climate change and the increase in impervious cover (due to urbanisation) the recharge of our groundwater system will be reduced,” Samm said. As well, “with urban growth, you see garbage in the rivers – refrigerators.”

The authority decided it needed to act to protect the health of the watersheds on which its water supply depends. It introduced the Adopt-A-River programme in the summer of 2013. Since its rollout, several of the country’s rivers have been adopted, including six of the most important, and there are 175 citizens working with the Adopt-A-River programme.

Though river adoption programmes are known in several states in the U.S., the programme in Trinidad and Tobago is among the first for the Caribbean.

WASA’s decision to focus on preserving ecosystems was a forward-looking approach to the issue of sustainably ensuring access to potable water for all, as evident from observations made in the Executive Summary of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015. Commenting on the water situation worldwide the report states the following:

“Most economic models do not value the essential services provided by freshwater ecosystems, often leading to unsustainable use of water resources and ecosystem degradation. Pollution from untreated residential and industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off also weakens the capacity of ecosystems to provide water-related services.

“Ecosystems across the world, particularly wetlands, are in decline. Ecosystem services remain under-valued, under-recognized and under-utilized within most current economic and resource management approaches. A more holistic focus on ecosystems for water and development that maintains a beneficial mix between built and natural infrastructure can ensure that benefits are maximized.”

In keeping with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals’ focus on reducing poverty and environmental degradation by helping communities to help themselves, the UNDP provided funds for one of Trinidad and Tobago’s Adopt-A-River participants

Through its Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP), the UNDP provides funds and technical support to civil society organisations working on “projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people’s well-being and livelihoods at the community level.”

The Social Justice Foundation, which works in underdeveloped areas of Central and South Trinidad, received funding of just under 50,000 dollars from the SGP, which it matched with 65,000 dollars of its own money to sponsor an Adopt-A-River programme involving at-risk and disadvantaged youths in the communities of Siparia and Carlsen Field.

The programme ran for nine months from September 2014 to June 2015, during which time young people have been trained as eco-leaders and taught skills in water testing to monitor the health of the rivers in their communities, using La Motte test kits, as well as video production to record the work done.

They learned how to test for temperature, pH, alkalinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, phosphate and nitrate and to record the changes in these parameters over the nine months of the project.

Mark Rampersad, administrative manager at the Social Justice Foundation, told IPS that WASA’s Adopt-a-River unit “further refined the project’s scope and depth as well as facilitating the various seminars and workshops, which featured environmental awareness.”

The Caparo River in Central Trinidad and Coora River in South Trinidad were the two rivers adopted by the Social Justice Foundation for their Adopt-A-River initiative.

Though the programme has enjoyed some favourable response from communities and schools, corporate support for the programme has not been as great as the Adopt-A-River unit would have liked. However, Samm said, the unit has been successful in its Green Fund application and will be furthering its community outreach with the funds awarded.

Preserving the health of the rivers was also based on financial considerations, said Raj Gosine, WASA’s head of Water Resources. “It is very expensive to treat poor water quality, so WASA’s motive was also financial.”

“The key thing is to stress that we can all make a positive contribution,” Gosine added.

Along with water quality monitoring and public education, WASA’s Adopt-A-River programme includes reforestation and forest rehabilitation, as well as clean-up exercises.

Global Water Partnership-Caribbean’s Programme Manager Dr. Natalie Boodram told IPS, “Programmes like Adopt-A-River which encourage reforestation of watershed and riparian zones (i.e., areas along the bank of a river or watercourse) help protect water supplies by encouraging water infiltration as opposed to surface runoff.

“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Names Winners of First Nelson Mandela Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:54:11 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141250 Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The winners of the first-ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize were announced Monday by General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, 25 years to the day that Mandela addressed the U.N. General Assembly to denounce apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

They are Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia, and Jorge Sampaio of Portugal.

Kutesa said that the winners were chosen from about 300 applicants for the prize from a variety of sources, including member states as well as observer states of the U.N., institutions of higher education, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs.

The Prize was established in June 2014 by the General Assembly to recognise the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.

Dr. Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist, widely renowned for her charitable work among sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. Dr. Ndume has ensured that some 30,000 blind Namibians have received eye surgery and are fitted with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She is currently the head of the ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists. Ndume has also set up eye camps in Angola, working with international organisations to bring eye surgery to the country’s poor.

Jorge Sampaio is a Portuguese lawyer and politician who was president of Portugal from 1996 to 2006. He became a leader in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in his country, and also served as deputy minister for external cooperation and as mayor of Lisbon from 1989 to 1995.

He is a strong advocate of the European integration project, actively supported its enlargement to all democratic countries in Europe as well as to Turkey, and played an active role in engaging ordinary people, in particular youth, in public debates on European affairs.

Sampaio is now a member of the Club de Madrid, a grouping of more than 80 former democratic statesmen that works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership worldwide by drawing on the experience of its members.

In May 2006, Sampaio was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as his first Special Envoy for the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis, where he raised the international visibility of this poverty disease’s scale and its impact on the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda.

In April 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon designated him as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, a position he held till September 2012.

Ban said the United Nations hoped to carry on Mandela’s “lifelong work through this meaningful prize.”

Chaired by the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations selection Committee for the Prize this year was composed of the Permanent Representatives of Algeria, Latvia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, representing the five United Nations geographical regional groups.

The Permanent Representative of South Africa was an ex-officio member of the Committee. The U.N. Department of Public Information served as the secretariat.

The award ceremony will take place on July 24 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will be part of the annual commemoration by the General Assembly of Nelson Mandela International Day.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Amazon Dam also Brings Health Infrastructure for Local Populationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:16:40 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141223 The new General Hospital in Altamira, which has not yet opened, will be the most modern facility of its kind in this city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, receiving the most serious cases from the 11 municipalities affected by the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The new General Hospital in Altamira, which has not yet opened, will be the most modern facility of its kind in this city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, receiving the most serious cases from the 11 municipalities affected by the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Extensive public health infrastructure and the eradication of malaria will be the most important legacy of the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle for the population affected by the megaproject.

In the six municipalities in the area of the dam, where an action plan to curb malaria has been implemented, the number of cases plunged nearly 96 percent between 2011 and 2015: from 3,298 in the period January to March 2011, just before construction began, to 141 in the same period this year.

Two municipalities have had no cases this year as of May, said Dr. José Ladislau, health manager for Norte Energía, the consortium of private companies and public enterprises that won the concession to build and run Belo Monte for 35 years.

“For the past two years no one has fallen ill with malaria in Brasil Novo – that’s the best news,” said Noedson Carvalho, health secretary of that municipality which is located 45 km from the Xingú river, where the giant hydroelectric dam with a capacity to generate 11,233 MW is being built.

Malaria, which is endemic in the Amazon, is a major factor in rural poverty, Ladislau told IPS. And the Xingú river basin used to have one of the highest malaria rates in the country.

The number of cases has plummeted throughout most of the northern state of Pará, where the lower and middle stretches of the Xingú river run, thanks to mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and early diagnosis and treatment.

The results in the vicinity of Belo Monte, where the rural population is highly vulnerable to malaria, were obtained through an 11-million-dollar offensive by Norte Energía which included the construction of laboratories and the purchase of vehicles and long-lasting mosquito nets.

“Belo Monte has given Brasil Novo what it would not have obtained on its own in centuries,” Carvalho told IPS. He mentioned the 42-bed hospital and five basic health units, which now form part of the municipal public health system.

The hospital was already there, but it was private. And due to financial problems, it had shut its doors in April 2014, leaving the 22,000 people of Brasil Novo without a hospital, just when demand was rising due to the influx of workers from other parts of the country, drawn by the Belo Monte construction project.

Sewage runs down one of the main streets of Altamira, even though there is a sewer system. Poor sanitation leaves the city’s children at risk of diarrhea, which is the cause of many admissions to the hospitals in this Amazon rainforest city near the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sewage runs down one of the main streets of Altamira, even though there is a sewer system. Poor sanitation leaves the city’s children at risk of diarrhea, which is the cause of many admissions to the hospitals in this Amazon rainforest city near the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are 30 births a month here, on average; it was a terrible situation to have no hospital in the city,” the municipal health secretary said.

Basic health clinics were also upgraded or installed in the town. But the most serious cases will be sent to Altamira, the biggest city in the area, with a population of 140,000 according to unofficial estimates.

The Brasil Novo municipal government negotiated the purchase and renovation of the hospital, with funds from Norte Energía, through the Regional Sustainable Development Plan (PDRS). It will now be a public hospital catering to the entire population free of charge.

The PDRS, funded by the company, is focused on implementing public policies and local projects.

It comes on top of the Basic Environmental Project (PBA), a set of 117 initiatives and actions to be carried out by the consortium building the Belo Monte dam, as compensation for 11 municipalities affected by the hydropower plant.

The total investment in these projects is 1.2 billion dollars – the biggest contribution to local development by a megaproject in Brazil. The investment, a condition for obtaining the necessary environmental permits, represents 14 percent of the Belo Monte construction project’s total budget.

Three new and three renovated hospitals are the main health infrastructure provided to the 11 municipalities in question.

The biggest one, the Altamira General Hospital, with 104 beds, including 10 in intensive care, is ready to open. It inherited equipment and staff from an old municipal hospital that had 98 beds and will be turned into a maternity and infant care centre.

A new basic health unit in the São Joaquim neighbourhood, where families displaced from areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam have recently been resettled. The consortium building the hydropower complex on the Xingú river in the Brazilian Amazon has built 30 of these units in the five municipalities that have been felt the greatest impact from the megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A new basic health unit in the São Joaquim neighbourhood, where families displaced from areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam have recently been resettled. The consortium building the hydropower complex on the Xingú river in the Brazilian Amazon has built 30 of these units in the five municipalities that have been felt the greatest impact from the megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The new hospital has fully automated and centralised modern communication, lighting, air conditioning and piped water systems, and extremely strict hygiene with regard to uniforms, staff, waste disposal and sanitation, said Norte Energía’s health manager, Dr. Ladislau.

There has been criticism that the investment did not sufficiently increase hospital capacity, because the number of beds was limited by the size of the existing hospitals that were remodeled or expanded.

But Ladislau said it made no sense to create too big a system, with high maintenance and operating costs that poor municipalities would find it hard to face.

“The idea is to build a strong health network in this region of 11 municipalities…with a focus on primary health care,” and to that end Norte Energía built 30 basic health units, distributed in five municipalities, with seven in Altamira alone, he said.

“With the new health centres, improved sanitation and other preventive measures, the pressure on hospital beds will be reduced,” he said. Some 1,500 children under five are admitted to the Altamira Municipal Hospital annually, most of them for diarrhea – a problem that is avoidable with good sanitation, he pointed out.

The resettlement of families from houses on stilts on lakes and other areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam in new neighbourhoods built on high ground will significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhea, he said.

The basic health units installed in those neighbourhoods offer healthcare, dental care, home visits, health promotion and disease prevention, and a system of statistics to put together community health profiles making it possible to plan purchases of medicines, syringes and other supplies, said Ladislau.

The infrastructure provided by Norte Energía will depend on the municipal administration and staff which will provide services, including maintenance.

Brasil Novo is an impoverished municipality that will receive very little in the way of royalties from Belo Monte, and will find it hard to keep the hospital running, the local health secretary Carvalho admitted.

But there will be no shortage of doctors thanks to the central government’s More Doctors programme, which hired thousands of Cuban physicians willing to work in Brazil’s hinterland, and which is also managing to get Brazilian doctors to participate, he said.

But a hospital needs surgeons and other specialists who are more difficult to draw to towns in the Amazon.

There is a risk that hospitals with 32 to 42 beds in Brasil Novo and two other municipalities will be underused, because the local populations range from 15,000 to 25,000 people, and the most serious or complex cases will be referred to the bigger and better equipped hospitals in Altamira.

One illustration of the difficulty in attracting qualified personnel was the attempt to open a medical school on the Altamira campus of the Federal University of Pará, which failed due to the dearth of professors with a doctorate degree.

Local residents also criticise the company for delays in the health projects, which were supposed to get underway earlier in order to meet the increased demand caused by the influx of workers from other regions.

The delays were aggravated by the temporary closure of the health services to build new installations. That happened, for example, in the case of the General Hospital, a large facility that used to be a modest primary health clinic in a poor neighbourhood in Altamira.

“What was already precarious is now even worse,” said Marcelo Salazar, head of the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute in Altamira.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: No Place to Hide in Addishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:16:38 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141200

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

My colleagues just got back from Munich, where we held a summit bringing together over 250 young volunteers from across Europe. These youngsters campaigned in the run-up to and at the doorstep of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, as one of the key moments in a year brimming with opportunities to tackle extreme poverty.

It’s inspiring to work with these young activists – their enthusiasm and creativity are humbling. But the other thing about young people is that they don’t let anyone pull the wool over their eyes. Euphemisms don’t stick; skirting the point doesn’t get you very far. They keep us on our toes and that is not a bad thing at all.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

But some phenomena I am simply at a loss to explain. One such paradox is the fact that only a third of aid goes to the very poorest countries, and that aid to those countries has been declining. Yet in the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’, 43 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, compared to 13 percent in other countries.

This begs so many questions it is dizzying. How are we going to eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t prioritise the countries that need aid the most? What is aid for if not helping the poorest?

Why are we cutting aid to the poorest countries when it is the middle income countries that are becoming more able to mobilise their own sources of financing for development? And why aren’t leaders doing anything to reverse this perverse trend?

Instead, EU development ministers in May recommitted to the existing promise of providing 0.7 percent of national income in aid, and up to 0.2 percent of national income in aid to the least developed countries – this time “within the timeframe” of the post-2015 agenda to be adopted in September.

But even if they achieved both targets by say, 2025, that would still mean a share of only 28.6 percent of total aid going to the poorest countries. In other words: business as usual. This is where any young person would detect the glaring no-brainer, and unapologetically probe “… but isn’t that too little, too late?”Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone.

Whereas the Millennium Development Goals – global anti-poverty goals agreed in the year 2000 – allowed us to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of bringing down average levels of extreme poverty and child mortality, this year’s new set of ‘Global Goals’ is all about finishing the job.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone. We need to frontload our efforts and put the poorest and most vulnerable at the centre of our approach from the get-go.

That is why donors must commit to spending at least half of their aid on the poorest countries, and to doing this by 2020, so that those countries have time to tackle the Global Goals in time for the 2030 deadline.

This is but one of the debates that are heating up in the final weeks before the Summit in Addis Ababa in July, where world leaders will come together to decide on how to finance development. Negotiations touch upon topics that go well beyond aid, and rightly so, in an attempt to unlock new sources of financing such as domestic resource mobilisation and private sector investment.

Sadly though, many of the discussions are still being held hostage by the impasse on aid commitments. Indeed, donor countries’ laborious reaffirmation of decade-old broken promises does not inspire confidence that they are committed to doing things differently this time.

What, then, can change the game at this point? For one, let’s kick things up a level and bring in the big bosses. We fully expect heads of state to be in attendance in Addis – but even before then, the leaders of all 28 EU Member States are getting together for their own summit at the end of June.

Here they have the authority to agree on a more ambitious commitment than the development ministers managed to broker last month. Announcing an EU-wide intent to direct at least half of collective aid to the least developed countries would send a strong political message that could spark a much-needed race to the top in the final sprint towards Addis.

Another sure way to guarantee the success of this Summit is to inject more political will into the discussions that go beyond aid. For example, several countries are coming together to harness the “Data Revolution” to ensure that we collect the statistics needed to track progress and achieve the new Global Goals.

Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to measure progress. Clearly, we need to aim for more with the new Global Goals.

Further, it will be crucial to agree on minimum per capita spending levels on essential services to deliver, by 2020, a basic package for all. In order to fund these efforts, governments should increase domestic revenues towards ambitious revenue-to-GDP targets and halve the gap to those targets by 2020 by implementing fair tax policies, curbing corruption and stemming illicit flows.

The list is long and time is running out, but as our youth activists would unwaveringly note, there is still ample opportunity for leaders in both North and South to rise to the occasion and throw their weight behind ending extreme poverty. Pesky questions aside, leaders really should take note of these young voices, because it is quite literally their future world that leaders are shaping this year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Donor Conference to Tackle Nepal Reconstructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 22:32:09 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141188 A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal in April, and the numerous aftershocks that followed, left the country with losses amounting to a third of its economy.

As this South Asian nation of 27 million people struggles to get back on its feet, a major donor conference scheduled for Jun. 25 promises to bring some relief, but the extent of the disaster means that Nepal will be dealing with the fallout from the quake for a long time to come.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed." -- Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank
The country’s post-disaster needs assessment reported damages of 5.15 billion dollars, losses of 1.9 billion dollars and recovery needs of 6.6 billion dollars. The housing sector bore the brunt of the disaster, accounting for three-fifths of the damages and half of the country’s most pressing needs.

Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has called this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history. Over 8,000 lives were lost, 22,000 people were injured and over 1,000 health facilities were destroyed, according to government data.

“One in three Nepali people have been affected by the earthquakes. One in 10 has been rendered homeless,” the foreign minister said. “Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers.”

An additional three percent of the population, which amounts to roughly a million people, has been pushed into poverty because of this disaster, according to the World Bank.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on its website that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support and 1.9 million require food assistance.

Only 129 million dollars of the 422-million-dollar humanitarian appeal by United Nations have been raised.

Nepal, a developing country saddled with debts up to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and dependent on external aid, had nonetheless been making developmental and economic gains before the disaster struck.

For instance, government data indicate that the percentage of people living in poverty fell from 42 percent to 23.8 percent within the last 20 years.

“The disaster has dealt a severe blow to our aspirations,” Mahat said.

The donor conference later this month, to be held in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is expected to tackle strategies for reconstruction and the provision of financial support.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed,” said Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank.

“The country needs resources to pay for the recovery that can be channeled through credible programmes to make itself more resilient to the next natural disaster and ensure that those most in need receive the help they deserve.”

The conference will be jointly conducted by the Nepal government, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the government of India, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the United Nations and the World Bank.

More challenges lie ahead for Nepal as the annual monsoon season approaches, potentially displacing thousands more people. Charity groups such as CARE are scrambling to provide iron sheeting to households and those in temporary shelters to keep them dry, according to the group’s recent update.

“Our biggest priority now is to make sure we get people through the monsoon safe and dry,” said CARE shelter expert Tom Newby in the Jun. 5 release. “Families want to know how to rebuild their homes safer and better and our job is to help them do this.”

Orla Fagan, public information officer at OCHA’s Asia Pacific regional office, said in an email to IPS that providing shelter is a key concern.

“There were around 500,000 families affected and left without homes after the two earthquakes,” Fagan said, adding that greater relief efforts are needed before the country can move on to reconstruction.

Rupa Joshi, communications manager for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal, is concerned about the country’s fragile hillsides.

“The monsoon is already upon us,” Joshi said in an email to IPS. “We feel when the rain comes in, or pour like it did last week in eastern Nepal, our mountains will see numerous large landslides.”

Agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working to help children return to school, provide safe birth-centers and deliver food to people in Nepal’s hard-to-reach mountainous areas.

Meanwhile, groups like Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based NGOs and 400 faith communities, are fighting to help Nepal obtain debt relief from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which Nepal owes about 54 million dollars.

“The country pays 600,000 dollars a day [to its creditors],” Eric LeCompte, executive director of the coalition, told IPS. “It is a significant amount that can be freed up for relief efforts.”

Nepal could also qualify for assistance under the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR), which aims to relieve debt burdens of low-income countries like Nepal.

To qualify for the trust, Nepal will have to demonstrate that the natural disaster has directly affected at least one third of its population and destroyed more than a quarter of its productive capacity.

Jubilee USA Network has succeeded in securing similar debt-relief schemes for several Ebola-stricken countries by applying pressure on the IMF.

LeCompte said the Jun. 25 conference is crucial for Nepal.

“The Nepal government is expected to ask for debt relief at the conference,” LeCompte said. “It will push the decision-making process onto the banks.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Act on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 10:13:32 +0000 Edwin Gariguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141165 Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

By Edwin Gariguez
MANILA, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

My country, the Philippines, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Even though we are among those countries that hardly contributed emissions and benefited least from burning fossil fuels, we find ourselves at the frontline of the climate crisis.

The catastrophe we experienced from Super Typhoon Haiyan [in early November 2013], one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, which killed thousands and damaged billions of properties, is proof to this. Almost two years later, our people are still struggling to recover from its devastating impact.“If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart”

It should therefore not come as a surprise that concern about climate change is higher in the Philippines than elsewhere. A recent public consultation showed that 98 percent of Filipinos are “very concerned” about the impacts of climate change, compared with a global average of around 78 percent.

The Church cannot remain a passive bystander. It is our moral imperative to give voice to the voiceless.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has pronounced its strong opposition to coal mining because it will make our country contribute to climate change, and endanger ecosystems as well as the health and lives of people.

Our churches have often led the struggles against dirty energy. In my hometown of Atimonan, Quezon, for example, more than 1,500 protesters led by church leaders staged a demonstration against a proposed coal-fired power plant last week.

Similarly, Catholic priests in Batangas are at the forefront of the fight against the construction of a new coal power plant. Last month, about 300 priests held a prayer rally ahead of a committee hearing that discussed the project.

Pope Francis also understands that climate change is not only an environmental issue but a matter of justice. His upcoming encyclical is anticipated to bring the link between climate change and the poor to centre stage.

In the Philippines, we are grateful that Pope Francis came to visit and held mass in areas hit the hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

We admire him for standing in solidarity with us, using his position to inject momentum for faith communities around the world to take a moral stance on climate change.

A papal encyclical is an extraordinary way to send a powerful message to world leaders whose actions to date lag far behind the scale of the response that is necessary.

We hope that the Pope’s message will remind world leaders of their moral duty to act as we approach the climate summit in Paris [in December], where a new international climate agreement is supposed to be reached.

The moral imperative to act could not be stronger and the world now needs to stand united in the face of the climate crisis that knows no geographic boundaries, while the worst impacts still can be avoided.

Through the Pope’s encyclical, the Church will raise critical issues that need to be taken into account in the global response to this unprecedented threat.

Global capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty by burning fossil fuels. On the flipside, it has also created vast inequalities and sacrificed the environment for the sake of short-term gain. Now is the time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels over our lives and the planet.

If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart.

The Pope’s critique of today’s destructive, fossil-fuel dependent economy will not go down well with the powerful interests that benefit from today’s status quo.

But we, the Church and the people of the Philippines, will stand alongside the Pope as strong allies in the struggle for a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually rich world that Pope Francis and the broader climate movement are fighting for.

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. 

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Kidney Disease Treatment Not For All in Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/kidney-disease-treatment-not-for-all-in-uganda/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:27:04 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141129 Patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Credit: Rebecca Vassie

Patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Credit: Rebecca Vassie

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Vincent Mugyenyi, a 65-year-old retired pilot from the Ugandan Air Force, has lost count of how many dialysis treatment slots he has had to attend in the eight years he has been fighting chronic kidney disease.

He spends eight hours a week on a dialysis machine in Mulago National Referral Hospital that filters toxins from his blood, performing the functions of healthy kidneys. The ultimate aim of dialysis is to bridge a gap until kidney functions recover or until a transplant is available for patients.

“I used to have a small farm with about one hundred animals. I sold all those animals for treatment because I still needed life. That is how this disease has affected me. It has depleted every resource of mine … land is very important but I have sold mine just to buy life,” Mugyenyi told IPS.

Mugyenyi is both luck and unfortunate. He is one of the minority of Ugandans with chronic kidney disease who has been able to receive dialysis treatment, but he does not qualify for a kidney transplant operation because of his advanced age.“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV” – Dr Robert Kalyesubula, nephrologist at Mulago Hospital in Kampala

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a growing health burden in Uganda that is affecting the economic, social and physical livelihoods of patients and their family members.

Dr, Simon Peter Eyoku, a kidney disease specialist at Mulago Hospital’s renal unit, told IPS that CKD affects mainly Ugandan adults aged between 20 and 50, and that the commonest causes of kidney diseases in Uganda are HIV-related infections of the kidney, followed by hypertension and diabetes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that with CKD being the 12th leading cause of deaths worldwide and its incidence growing by around eight percent annually, it is a global public health concern.

Mulago National Referral Hospital is the only public hospital in Uganda treating patients with renal or kidney-related complications and, according to Eyoku, that often places a further burden on patients who have to travel long distances to the dialysis unit.

“I have seen patients migrate from far corners of the country to Kampala because that is where the dialysis machines are. That is how costly this disease can be to patients,” Eyoku told IPS.

A further problem is that the dialysis unit only has 33 haemodialysis machines for a total population of about 36 million people.

When the unit opened almost eight years ago with four dialysis machines, a patient had to pay the equivalent of 500 dollars for a week of dialysis treatment, making the cost of treatment prohibitive.

“Those who could afford it would fall out after selling land, houses, cars and then failing to continue. And at that time, the cost of a transplant was equal to the amount of money you paid in a year for dialysis,” said Eyoku.

In March 2014, the administration of Mulago Hospital decided to reallocate its budget in order to finance the renal unit and brought the cost of a week of treatment down to 40 dollars, but that is still out the reach of most Ugandans.

The hospital is now also offering two free sessions of dialysis, and Eyoku told IPS that this has led to an influx of patients with CKD, “so now we are struggling because we are getting many more patients on dialysis.”

Uganda’s health planners are accused of not giving priority to kidney-related diseases. “I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases,” Dr Robert Kalyesubula, one of the four consulting nephrologists at Mulago Hospital, told IPS.

“I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases, I wish we had more awareness programmes about kidney disease so that people know about it because it is devastating. I have seen big people break down on being diagnosed with kidney disease. And the pain, because it affects a whole family. If a father gets the disease then the children will not go to school.”

One of the difficulties with kidney disease is that in its early stages it has no specific symptoms so the patients who turn up for treatment are often in the final stages of the disease.

“Patients come in the dying stage,” said Kalyesubula. “You spend 90 percent of your time struggling to keep people alive rather than making them live.”

In addition, said the nephrologist, in Uganda as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the magnitude of CKD is unknown and is not given sufficient importance.

“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV. We are ignoring a disease which can be treated in its early stages.”

Patients who cannot afford to pay the 40 dollars a week for dialysis are treated in ward 4C, and the impression is that they are prisoners condemned to a death sentence with no possibility of appeal.

When IPS visits the ward on a busy afternoon, the scene was one of pathetic chaos, with the few doctors and nurses available rushing round, attending to both adult males and young girls in the same ward.

A male patient in his mid-forties had just died from kidney failure, and at the entrance to the ward, IPS met Rosemary Kyakuhaire, packing the bags of a brother who had died earlier in the day. She said that he had spent three weeks in the ward receiving palliative care because her family could not afford the expensive dialysis treatment.

In Uganda, Kalyesubula told IPS, a person would rather be diagnosed with HIV than kidney disease. “I say that mainly because HIV has a lot of support systems in Uganda. But for kidney disease, you are there on your own.  I have also seen people sell their houses to go for a kidney transplant but you don’t have to do that for HIV/AIDS.”

Provision of CKD treatment in Uganda depends primarily on whether the patient has health insurance or can otherwise afford treatment through taking out loans, selling property or financial support from relatives and friends. There are two private hospitals offering dialysis but only a lucky few can afford them.

Twenty-seven-year old Benon Mulindwa is one of the lucky ones. His employer, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), had medical insurance cover for his treatment and transplant costs. He told IPS that without that medical cover, he could not have afforded the 20,000 dollars or so a year for dialysis and another 20,000 dollars for his kidney transplant.

However, Mulindwa received the transplant not in Uganda but in India, with his employer’s medical insurance cover paying for the costs of transport to India and surgery there. He explained that most patients have to look for their own kidney donors at home.

Unlike developed countries which run public kidney donation registries, patients in Uganda have to find potential donors and that, said Kalyesubula, is where one of the difficulties for CKD patients lies.

Because of lack of awareness about the safety of kidney donations, many Ugandans are unwilling to donate a kidney to save the life of one of the growing number of patients on the kidney donation waiting lists.

But that is not the only difficulty, as Mulindwa explained. “It is very difficult because there those who come as thieves, there those who come expecting to be paid a lot of money. I know of one who promised to donate a kidney to one of the patients, but when the money was sent the ‘donor’ disappeared.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Sex Workers in Nicaragua Break the Silence and Gain Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/#comments Sat, 13 Jun 2015 01:28:26 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141117 María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

After living in the shadows, thousands of Nicaraguan sex workers have broken their silence, won support from state institutions and gained new respect for their rights.

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network (TraSex), explained to IPS that after 15 years of quietly organising, women who provide sexual services for money have managed to become “judicial facilitators” – a kind of conflict resolution mediator – in the Supreme Court and Health Ministry promoters of sexual and reproductive health.

They have also been incorporated into the Defensoría de Derechos Humanos or ombudsman’s office, and they now have a special prosecutor protecting their rights.

In addition, they were recently invited to receive training in political rights and to work as temporary employees for the Supreme Electoral Council in the 2016 general elections.

“This invitation to receive training on electoral matters empowers us to defend our rights vis-à-vis political parties and candidates,” Dávila told IPS.

TraSex represents Nicaragua in the Latin American and Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, also made up of organisations from Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

The Nicaraguan branch of the network was founded in Managua in November 2007 with the support of local non-governmental organisations and social assistance funds from aid agencies.

The seed of the organisation was the Sunflowers Sex Workers Association, which initially brought together 125 women who starting in 1997 went to informal trainings and lectures on health and sex education.

In 2009 the government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) signed an agreement for cooperation and assistance with the organisation, which began to gain visibility, influence and respect.

The organisation now has a registry of 14,486 sex workers between the ages of 18 and 60, 2,360 of whom have joined the network.

“The other women, the ones outside the network, are still wary of the organisation or are unfamiliar with our aim to provide support,” said Dávila. “But we’re working to train them in defence of their rights as women and sex workers.”

Pajarita from Nandaime (not her real name) is one of the sex workers who reject any kind of organisation among her colleagues.

“I take care of myself and I don’t trust groups or associations,” the 27-year-old told IPS. “Those women get involved in that for money, to get dollars, and then they forget about you. This life has taught me that among prostitutes there is no friendship, only competition.”

She arranges daytime appointments over the phone, working in Managua motels, and is studying tourism in the evenings. On the weekends she goes back to Nandaime, her hometown in the eastern department (province) of Granada, 67 km from the capital.

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

But the organisation is making headway in public institutions. The national legislature is now an ally, listening to their input when designing laws that relate to labour and social conditions of sex workers.

Carlos Emilio López, a national lawmaker who is vice president of the legislative Commission on Women, Children, Youth and Family Affairs, is one of the public officials who support the network.

“They are brave women putting up a struggle,” López told IPS. “They have historically been stigmatised and discriminated against, and now they are demanding the attention they have never been given. The state is in their debt, and it’s time they were given something back.”

In April, the vice president of the Supreme Court, magistrate Marvin Aguilar, presided over a ceremony where a pilot group, made up of 18 members of the network, received their credentials as judicial facilitators.

He explained at the time that the women were given technical and legal training to help manage conflicts through dialogue, as mediators.

“We’re the only country in the world that makes sex workers judicial facilitators,” said Aguilar. “The only country in the world that doesn’t try to arrest them and where their activity isn’t criminalised. We don’t throw them in prison for doing sex work.”

In May, the national police named a special chief to directly address the demands for safety voiced by the TraSex network and issued an institutional guideline for their complaints of domestic abuse and general violence to be addressed with the full force of the Integral Law Against Violence towards Women.

In the past, sex workers constantly complained about abuse of authority, harassment, discrimination and persecution by the police.

Their new relationship with the different branches of government enabled the TraSex network to have a say in the design of Nicaragua’s new Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which went into effect in April.

The original draft of the law linked prostitution and procuring with the crime of trafficking, while stressing that women, including prostitutes, were the main victims.

According to Dávila, associating sex workers with trafficking as both victims and victimisers did them harm. As a result, the network recommended modifying the text, the proposed change was accepted, and the connection between sex work and trafficking was removed from the law.

Reflecting their empowerment in Nicaraguan society, on Jun. 2 the network publicly celebrated for the first time International Sex Workers’ Day, annually acknowledged by sex worker networks and activists across the globe since 1976 in commemoration of a protest by prostitutes a year earlier in Lyon, France against the discrimination and police harassment they suffered.

In 2014, in a public ceremony covered by the media, the network presented the book “Ni putas ni prostitutas, somos trabajadoras sexuales” (Neither whores nor prostitutes, we are sex workers), containing first-hand accounts of four women talking about what it is like to be a sex worker and discussing their hopes for a better life.

In addition, since 2014 sex workers have held a voting seat on the Nicaraguan HIV/AIDS Commission, and have participated, also with both voice and vote, in the national HIV/AIDS coordinating committee, where official institutions, social organisations and international bodies design anti-HIV/AIDS actions.

Despite the progress they celebrate, Dávila acknowledged to IPS that social discrimination is still a problem and that there are “many battles to fight” in this impoverished Central American nation.

One of them is to establish lines of communication with the Education Ministry, to teach sex workers to read and write or help them finish school, and to protect their children from bullying by teachers and students, which is frequent when their mothers’ profession is discovered.

Another battle, said Dávila, is to engage in dialogue with the legal system authorities so the new Family Code, in force since April, is not used by judges to remove the children of sex workers from their mothers because of the work they do.

“Right now we have several cases of mothers who are sex workers, where the authorities want to take their daughters away because someone reported the work they do,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Journey Towards an African Taxation Renaissancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-journey-towards-an-african-taxation-renaissance/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 07:42:45 +0000 Sipho Mthathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141103

Sipho Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

By Sipho Mthathi
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Africa is known as the ‘paradox of plenty’. How can a continent so rich in natural resources be so poor?

Economic growth is predicted to increase by 4.5 percent across the continent this year, despite falling oil prices and the Ebola crisis. South Africa’s economy, the second biggest in Africa is expected to continue to grow by 3.5 percent this year; Nigeria will grow by an enviable 5.5 percent.

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

However, millions across Africa are struggling.  Economic inequality is on the rise, and public coffers are insufficient due to an increasing demand for public services like health, education and housing.

Recently, Thomas Pogge and other distinguished academics have written about the cost of progress. Surprisingly, history provides us with examples of countries where, if there is a balance between economic growth and public spending, it is possible to address inequality.

There is no time to waste in looking for ways to address this widening gap across Africa.

It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging.

In January, the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, contended that IFFs from Africa increased from about 20 billion dollars in 2001 to 60 billion in 2010 in the merchandise sector alone.

According to Global Financial Integrity’s 2014 report on IFFs from developing countries, South Africa alone may have lost more than 122 billion dollars between 2003 and 2012 in IFFs.

This is a lost opportunity for money that could have been reinvested in advancing Africa’s development and increased access to public goods for her Africa’s people.“It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging”

But this is only the half of the story. Multinational companies are gaining at the expense of African people through other ‘legal’ forms of corporate tax dodging, and through negotiated tax breaks. This is happening because of a lack of fair global tax rules, and behind-closed-door deals between corporations and governments, rushing to seal deals under pressure.

Africa’s astounding growth is affecting human development. And these losses in tax revenue come at a time when the role of official development assistance to Africa is declining.

Fair and progressive tax systems should be providing financing for well-functioning government programmes to enable governments to uphold citizens’ rights to basic services (such as healthcare and education), and cement trust between citizens and governments.

Establishing an effective tax system is critical if Africa is going to mobilise the resources it needs to tackle poverty and inequality.  Africa is home to six out of ten of the world’s most unequal countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic.  Some estimates on Africa’s financing needs include 40-$60 billion dollars per year to finance the post-2015 development agenda.

This is not just Africa’s problem. Around the world, many lower-income countries have been subject to harmful tax practices, including transfer pricing, whereby a transfer price may be manipulated to shift profits from one jurisdiction to another, usually from a higher-tax to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

After revelations of how multinational enterprises (MNEs) such as Starbucks, Google and Apple deliberately structured themselves to minimise their tax bills, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an effort to reform this base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) practice. This reform is expected to wind up by the end of 2015.

However, since the launch of the BEPS Action Plan, developed countries have not had a real voice or influence in the process.  Just four African countries, including South Africa as a G20 member country, have been invited to participate as observers.  These countries are bringing attention to the many mining corporations which are offered lucrative tax incentives which must be addressed in the BEPS plan.

The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) is a regional tax body that has been invited by the OECD/G20 to participate in the BEPS reform process.  This should provide further scope to influence the BEPS process with an African perspective.

At the same time, the South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) is going after billions lost through wasteful incentives and trade mispricing. SARS has recovered 5.8 billion rand (460 million dollars) over the three-year period 2011-2014, 55 percent (3.4 billion rand or 274 million dollars) of which is attributed to the mining industry.

South Africa’s membership in the G20 (and its role as co-Chair of the G20 Development Working Group) provides an enormous opportunity to insist on broad inclusion of all nations in the BEPS reform process.

At a recent conference convened by ATAF, South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene called for “Africa to protect its own tax base, and advance domestic resource mobilisation through a common voice, a common concern and a common action plan.”

It is time that all African finance ministers wake up to the possibility that tax revenues for financing essential services for their citizens, or investment in small-holder agriculture or infrastructure, could come from the recovery of billions of dollars lost from corporate tax dodging and unfair tax competition.

Tax breaks provided to six large foreign mining companies in Sierra Leone, for example, are equivalent to 59 percent of the total budget of the country – or eight times the country’s health budget.

It is time for a global inter-governmental body on international tax cooperation to allow for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to ongoing tax reform, beyond BEPS.

All countries should be able to participate in tax negotiations on an equal footing, which guarantees one country, one vote, and where representatives will have the political mandate to speak on behalf of their governments.  Simply relying on the BEPS process to re-write tax rules will not be enough to end international tax dodging.

Through the BEPS reform process and this new tax body, there would be real potential for an African taxation renaissance.

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. 

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Opinion: G7 Makes Commitment on Climate … to Climate Chaoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 07:07:19 +0000 Lucy Cadena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141083 Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually  phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

By Lucy Cadena
LONDON, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

One of the promises made by the leaders of the world’s seven richest nations when they met at Schloss Elmau in Germany earlier this week was an energy transition over the next decades, aiming to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change.

Let us be clear: a target of zero fossil fuels by 2100 puts us on track for warming on an unmanageable scale. The only commitment made by the G7 this week was a commitment to climate chaos.

Putting our faith in as-yet-underdeveloped technology fixes such as ‘carbon capture and storage’ and ‘geo-engineering’ to save us in the next 85 years, while the solutions to the climate crisis – renewable technology and community energy systems – exist here and now, is senseless.“The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy”

The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy.

While the G7 gathered on Jun. 7 and 8, this was the message from people from around the world, who are calling for a ban on all new dirty energy projects and an end to the financing of dirty energy.

The G7’s role in upholding the current dirty energy system is not limited to the subsidies they pour into fossil fuels daily.

G7 countries also directly finance – and profit from – dirty energy projects, particularly in the global South, and in regions where poverty and limited energy access devastate families.

These include projects affecting communities deeply reliant on clean air, water, and land that is polluted and stolen from them, projects among populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and projects where people face harassment and human rights violations for speaking out.

France

Last week, France, host of the 30 November-11 December 2015 Paris climate summit – the U.N. gathering to set the agenda for global climate commitments in the next decades – announced that two of the summit’s key sponsors will be EDF and ENGIE (formerly GDF-Suez).

The French state holds 84 percent and 33.3 percent of shares in these companies respectively. Both are involved in the construction of several very controversial, polluting projects across the world.

EDF is currently planning the destructive Mphanda Nkuwa mega-dam on the Zambezi River in Mozambique, in the face of fierce opposition from local communities and environmental organisations.

A letter from civil society reminds French President François Hollande that these and other projects place EDF and ENGIE among the top 50 companies that contribute the most to global climate change.

With 46 coal-fired power plants between them, EDF and ENGIE are responsible for emitting 151 million tonnes of CO₂ a year – which amounts to about half the total of France’s overall emissions.

Italy

The Italian state owns a considerable number of shares – almost one-third – in oil and gas company ENI. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, last year alone ENI reported 349 oil spills in the Niger Delta from its own operations.

The figure is remarkable – almost unbelievable. Each spill triggers a human and ecological crisis. The scale of the devastation and ENI’s failure to safeguard communities and ecosystems begs the question: is this sheer incompetence, recklessness, or simply utter indifference to the welfare of local communities?

Japan

Japan, the next offender on the G7 list, is the number one public financier of coal plants globally among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Japan has 24 coal-powered projects either under construction or planned, many of them in Indonesia, Vietnam and India, where the more vulnerable local populations live under the cloud of plants’ toxic emissions.

Emissions of deadly sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal plants are currently highest in Indonesia, where the planned Batang coal power plant is set to become the largest ever Japanese-financed plant in Southeast Asia.

United States

A report by Oil Change International indicates that the United States government alone provides 5.1 billion dollars in national subsidies to fossil fuel exploration each year – that’s 5.1 billion dollars into seeking out new sources of civilisation-destroying energy sources.

Canada

Likewise, Canada’s expanding oil sector (caused by the growth in dirty tar sands production, known as ‘the biggest industrial project on Earth’) continues to reap the benefits of massive national subsidies.

United Kingdom

The U.K. government spent 300 times more supporting dirty energy overseas than it contributed towards renewable energy projects during its last term.

The 2012-2013 annual report of UK Export Finance, the country’s export credit agency, announced spending on projects such as a 147 million pounds (228 million dollars) guarantee to support oil and gas exploration by Petrobras in Brazil and 15 million pounds (23 million dollars) in guarantees to a loan for a gas power project in the Philippines.

Domestically, the government is prioritising drilling for new oil and gas, which will require huge subsidies. Hailing carbon-emitting gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ towards a cleaner energy system, the government is delaying investment in renewables to push fracking onto a population that vehemently opposes the dash for gas.

Germany

Meanwhile, Germany – the host of the G7 meeting – has been much lauded for its ‘Energiewende’ (‘Energy Revolution’), with a rapidly increasing use of renewable energy compensating for its nuclear phase-out in recent years.

However, German euros still make their way into the dirty energy machine – through sizeable tax exemptions afforded to fossil fuel producers’ exploration activities – allowing such companies to go further and dig deeper to uncover more carbon that needs to stay in the ground.

G7 Must Catch Up

The G7 countries have done the most to cause climate change. According to the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, they are responsible for 70 percent of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 10 percent of the global population.

A commitment to a phase-out of fossil fuels in eight decades’ time is not a commitment. It is an easy promise for a politician, who probably will not even be in power in the next decade, to make. It is an easy promise for a rich nation, whose citizens are not the most vulnerable, to make.

G7 societies have grown rich by exploiting the human and natural world. They owe an enormous ‘climate debt’ to developing nations – yet they can barely scrape together the money they promised to the developing world via the Green Climate Fund.

Whether it’s an oil spill in Nigeria, a mega-dam in Mozambique or a coal plant in Java, the sources of our publicly-owned dirty energy are always sites of ecological and social devastation.

Access to energy is a right, but it should not come at the cost of other people’s rights – to clean air and drinking water, to land and food sovereignty, and to sustainable societies.

The international movement for climate justice is building, and will keep up pressure on governments to take money out of dirty energy and reinvest it in democratic renewable solutions that benefit everyone.

The global shift towards a just energy transformation has long been under way. Now, it’s snowballing. People from around the world are showing the way and implementing community-owned renewable energy solutions.

There is a hunger for change, despite continued inaction from governments. G7 leaders, take note: you are trailing far behind and have a lot of catching up to do!

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. 

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U.N. Chief Backs New Int’l Decade for Water for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:55:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141049 Floods in Morigaon, India submerged about 45 roads in October 2014. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon, India submerged about 45 roads in October 2014. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues its negotiations to both define and refine a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before a summit meeting of world leaders in September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed support for a new “International Decade for Water for Sustainable Development.”

“It would complement and support the achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals – for water,” he said.“A dedicated Sustainable Development Goal, explicitly addressing the multifaceted nature of water - as a social issue, an economic issue, an environmental issue, as well as the main cause of disasters on our planet – is an imperative." -- Torgny Holmgren

The proposal for a new International Decade, which has to be eventually approved by the 193-member General Assembly, was initiated Tuesday by the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, at a ‘Water for Life” high-level international conference in the capital of Dushanbe.

Tajikistan, which has taken a leading role in highlighting the significance of water as a source of life, also sponsored the International Decade of Water For Life (2005-2015) “to raise awareness and galvanize action.”

The proposed new International Decade will be a successor to Water for Life which concludes in December this year.

Ban told delegates water’s place in the SDGs go well beyond access — taking into account critical issues such as integrated water resources management, efficiency of use, water quality, transboundary cooperation, water-related ecosystems, and water-related disasters.

“Water, like other areas of the post-2015 development agenda, is intricately interconnected with other challenges,” he noted.

John Garrett, senior policy analyst of development finance at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS: “We at WaterAid are glad to see U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighting in Tajikistan the human right to water and sanitation, and the enormous need that still exists for these essential services among the world’s poorest and most marginalised populations.”

The new SDGs, he pointed out, represent a once-in-a-generation chance to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water, decent toilets and a way to keep themselves and their surroundings clean.

“A new decade for action on Water for Sustainable Development would continue a much-needed focus on the enormous challenges ahead,” he said.

However, he cautioned, the action should also focus on sanitation and hygiene, because without these, clean water is neither achievable nor sustainable, and neither are the health benefits nor economic progress that results.

Over the years, the United Nations has continued to place water-related issues on its socio-economic agenda: the first-ever International Year of Water Cooperation; World Water Day commemorated every year on Mar. 22; and the annual World Toilet Day on Nov. 19.

Ban said the world achieved the Millennium Development Goal target for safe and sustainable drinking water five years ahead of schedule.

In the course of one generation, 2.3 billion people – one-third of humanity – have gained access to an improved drinking water source.

The United Nations General Assembly declared access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation to be a human right, he pointed out.

Torgny Holmgren, executive director at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS his organisation welcomes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s strong support for water as a key ingredient in all efforts towards sustainable development.

It is clear that the global community increasingly realises the challenges caused by growing water stress and unwise water management, he added.

“A dedicated Sustainable Development Goal, explicitly addressing the multifaceted nature of water – as a social issue, an economic issue, an environmental issue, as well as the main cause of disasters on our planet – is an imperative, but by no means sufficient, step towards the world we want.”

It is therefore particularly inspiring, he said, to see Ban’s encouragement for a process beyond the SDGs – “a process that allows and requires the involvement of all sectors and actors, public and private, individuals and organisations to collectively take a giant leap towards a water wise world.”

Garrett of WaterAid told IPS progress in the next decade will be critical and “we welcome efforts to keep these issues in the spotlight”.

The Millennium Development Goals succeeded in halving the number of people in the world without improved water, but left many of those most in need without.

Sanitation is among the most off-track of those goals. “We must refocus efforts in the next decade to ensure no one is left behind.”

Ban said sanitation has also made progress during the Decade, with more than 1.9 billion people gaining access to improved sanitation.

“That is all good news. Yet we also know that even today, in the 21st century, some 2.5 billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation”, while some one billion people still practice open defecation.

Even today, in the 21st century, nearly 1,000 children under the age of five are killed each day by a toxic mix of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene, he said.

And inadequate water supply and sanitation cost economies about 260 billion dollars worldwide every year.

Just 10 years from now, 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two out of three people around the world could live under water-stressed conditions.

“It is little wonder that many global experts have called the ‘water crisis’ one of the greatest global risks that we face,” warned Ban.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Inequality Blocks Further Reduction in Child Mortality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/inequality-blocks-further-reduction-in-child-mortality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-blocks-further-reduction-in-child-mortality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/inequality-blocks-further-reduction-in-child-mortality-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:11:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141039 A doctor attends a 10-month-old baby in a public health centre in Bolivia, in one of the regular check-ups that are a requisite for women to receive the mother-child subsidy, one of the mechanisms created to reduce maternal and infant mortality in the country. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A doctor attends a 10-month-old baby in a public health centre in Bolivia, in one of the regular check-ups that are a requisite for women to receive the mother-child subsidy, one of the mechanisms created to reduce maternal and infant mortality in the country. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

The progress that Latin America has made in reducing child mortality is cited by international institutions as an example to be followed, and the region has met the fourth Millennium Development Goal, which is to cut the under-five mortality rate by two thirds.

But this overall picture conceals huge differences between and within countries in the region.

“There have been major strides in reducing child mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Luisa Brumana, regional health adviser with the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.

“However, that improvement has not benefited everyone equally,” she told IPS from the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Panama City.“We tend to think that children in rural areas face the worst conditions. But recently, with the migrations to the large cities and the bad conditions in poor outlying suburbs, things are just as complicated in those areas.” -- Luisa Brumana

In Brumana’s view, “this inequality has given rise to large variations in health indicators, both between and within countries, with results generally based on wealth, education, geographic location, and/or ethnic origin.”

National averages, which in some cases are good, hide enormous inequalities in what continues to be the world’s most unequal region.

Mónica, from Chile, has been fighting for the past three years to keep her fourth child alive. He was born deformed and with brain damage. She asked to remain anonymous, because it is a touchy issue at a family and personal level.

“It has been a constant struggle, but today my son is a survivor,” she told IPS. “We have spent a lot of money, we have gone to the best doctors. I am 100 percent dedicated to his recovery. And he’s doing better every day: he communicates, we go out for walks, we play together,” she said with enthusiasm.

But Mónica admitted that not everyone has access to the best care, and that there are large contrasts despite the technological advances seen in recent years.

In Chile, where GDP stands at over 277 billion dollars, the income of a child who lives in a wealthy household is 8,000 times higher than that of a child born into poverty, according to the Fundación Sol – an example of the challenge of inequality that continues to face the region.

That is reflected in essential areas like education and health.

In 2002, for example, five premature infants from poor families died of septic shock in a public hospital in Viña del Mar, 140 km northeast of Santiago, after the preterm formula they were given through feeding tubes was contaminated by wastewater that dripped from the floor above.

“Inequalities persist and I know that if we didn’t have the means, our son’s health would be much worse. It’s horrible, but it’s true,” Mónica said.

A family in a village on the banks of the Atrato river in the northwestern Colombian department of Chocó, where child mortality is three times higher than in the capital. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

A family in a village on the banks of the Atrato river in the northwestern Colombian department of Chocó, where child mortality is three times higher than in the capital. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

According to UNICEF, between 1990 and 2013 under-five mortality per 1,000 live births was reduced 67 percent in Latin America. This is the region that has made the greatest progress in that regard, along with East Asia and the Pacific, which saw a similar reduction.

According to the MDGs progress chart, the region has met the goal of cutting child mortality by two-thirds, from 54 to 19 deaths of children under five per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2013.

These advances are linked, among other factors, to economic growth in the region, where some 70 million people left poverty behind in the past decade, according to figures published in late May by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Worldwide, preventable and treatable causes are the leading culprits in infant mortality. And in this region, child mortality is mainly marked by the persistence of inequalities caused by different factors, such as income level, the population group to which the family belongs, where they live, or the educational level of the parents.

“For example, for a rural family that lives far from a health centre, access to healthcare is much more difficult and that can affect children’s health, such as in terms of keeping to the vaccination schedule,” Brumana explained.

“Other factors in a country that doesn’t have a good social safety net are high medical costs, which are a problem for low-income families, or the quality of health services, which is essential for guaranteeing proper care for children,” she added.

“No less important is for services to take into account cultural differences between regions and to be able to offer services adapted to different customs,” the expert said.

According to UNICEF’s “Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2014”, the five countries that stand out the most in the region are Cuba, Chile, Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica and St. Kitts and Nevis, which have infant mortality rates below 10 per 1,000 live births.

And the five countries that despite the progress made still face the biggest challenges are Haiti, Bolivia, Guyana, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, in that order. In the case of Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, 73 children died per 1,000 live births in 2013.

“There are major inequalities within countries,” said Brumana, who added that although certain factors have more of an influence than others, “we can’t generalise about which ones have the strongest influence.

“We tend to think that children in rural areas face the worst conditions. But recently, in the migrations to the large cities and with the bad conditions in poor outlying suburbs, things are just as complicated in those areas,” she said.

One example is Colombia, where the national averages are good, but in the hinterland enormous inequalities are seen from province to province.

For example, she noted, the northwestern department or province of Chocó has an under-five child mortality rate three times higher than the rate in Bogotá: 30.5 per 1,000 live births compared to 13.77, respectively, according to 2011 figures.

“The priority now is to give better access to the most marginalised population groups, which are generally the ones living in remote rural areas, or indigenous or black people,” Brumana said.

She pointed out that there are regional initiatives working towards progress along those lines.

One example is A Promised Renewed for the Americas, whose aim is to reduce inequities in reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child, and adolescent health by means of stepped-up political and technical support for developing countries to detect inequities and raise awareness, bringing together key actors and promoting the sharing of best practices.

Another challenge is reducing neonatal mortality rates among children in their first month of life – one of the most critical stages of development.

Globally, 2.8 million babies die during this stage of their lives. One million of them don’t even live to see their second day of life.

According to the regional initiative, the important thing now is to maintain public policies focused on improving access to healthcare, and to decentralise health policies. And, as always, to guarantee education, a factor that leads to a reduction in infant mortality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 23:59:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141029 A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Minsk Agreements, the Only Path to Peace in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:43:19 +0000 Aslan Abashidze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141024

Prof. Aslan Abashidze is the Head of the Department of International Law at Moscow’s Friendship University and a member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

By Aslan Abashidze
GENEVA, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

The “U.N. Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine”, which was referred to in an Inter Press Service (IPS) article of Jun. 2, does not, in my view, reflect many salient points.

How the lawful Government of Ukraine was overthrown is now well known. The new Kiev regime immediately announced the prohibition of the Russian language in the eastern regions of the country, inhabited mostly by the Russian speaking population.Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

As the U.N. report confirms, those who committed numerous murders on Maidan Square and in Odessa have not been prosecuted.

Combat aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force, armed with a full complement of missiles, bombed the centre of Donetsk in broad daylight. These events forced the creation of militia groups to defend their interests and territory.

That is how the military confrontation between the new regime in Kiev and eastern regions of Ukraine was created – thus causing 6,500 deaths, and over a million Ukrainian refugees now living inside Russia.

The fulfillment of all provisions of the Minsk agreements (ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, delivery of aid to the needy, local elections, formation of local authorities, constitutional reforms, etc.) signed by President Petro Poroshenko would no doubt preserve the territorial integrity of the Donetsk People’s Republic (Donetsk) and Luhansk People’s Republic (Luhansk) regions by obtaining acceptable status within the Ukrainian State.

Instead, what are we facing in fact?

The shelling of civilian areas in the eastern regions continues unabated. The observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report violations of the Minsk agreements on the side of Kiev. They probably cannot witness the Ukrainian Military incursions into East Ukraine which undoubtedly spark retaliation.

Civilians in Donetsk, including children, are dying. Various military units wearing fascist symbols act independent of the Kiev authorities, claiming they do not have to abide by Minsk Agreements.

Against this background, Poroshenko publicly states that his goal is to reclaim all areas by military force. To achieve that objective, Poroshenko mobilises the military, equips armies and recruits Private Security Companies from the U.S. and NATO Member States as well as others such as Georgia. Also, he continuously requests aid from Western countries — not only billions of dollars, but also heavy military equipment, including lethal weapons.

What for? To make peace or wage war?

Recently, the Ukraine Parliament – on the pretext of “anti-terrorist operations” – adopted an Act on the non-respect of human rights in Donetsk and Luhansk. But no one, including the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reminded the Ukrainian authorities that it is a violation of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In doing so, the Ukrainian authorities ignored the basic human right of the right to life.

It is also required that before passing such drastic laws, the country should declare a state of emergency, and clarify the need and duration of such a regime.

To declare a state of emergency, the Kiev authorities have to first recognise that an internal armed conflict exists in their territory, and secondly, they have to adhere to Article 3 that is common to four Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War of 1949 and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977.

In such a scenario, Kiev may not have access to loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, and it would not ethical to keep draconian restrictions of a socio-economic nature at the expense of the poor segment of the population while doing nothing against the high-level of corruption in government sectors.

Furthermore, the Kiev authorities have arbitrarily cancelled the benefits of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims, as well as child allowances. The U.N. human rights laws prohibit such retrogressive measures that worsen the situation of vulnerable groups.

Blatantly ignoring its social and economic obligations, the Kiev authorities have stopped supplying most needed medications; stopped paying pensions and benefits to people in those regions; and have blocked all food and essential items supply routes to these beleaguered regions.

What is also not acknowledged is the fact that since the beginning of this disaster, the Russian Federation has voluntarily sent 29 convoys of humanitarian aid to these regions, and that Russia provided natural gas after Kiev cut gas supplies to these regions in the height of the winter.

On Jun. 4, Poroshenko told the Parliament they will withdraw the economic blockade against Donetsk and Luhansk only if these regions came under their total control.

To achieve this, the Kiev authorities declared a total mobilisation of reservists and strengthened the bombing of the territory by large-scale artillery shells.

The selective approach of human rights organisations in relation to certain events raises concerns. Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

You may ask: What else can we do “to stop armed activities in the eastern part of Ukraine”, even though it is the paramount condition spelled out in the Minsk agreements signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, and supported by the U.S.?

First, of course, is to ensure that the Ukrainian authorities unreservedly honour the ceasefire. Secondly, if Kiev does not control certain military groups in territories under its control, then they should be disarmed by the OSCE peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, the structures of international organisations, including U.N. human rights structures, are subject to political influence from the United States and its NATO allies, which has led to a sharp decline in credibility of these establishments.

As we know, the U.S. continues its attempts to control world affairs – including world football. If this trend continues, the principles and norms of international law enshrined in the U.N. Charter will cease to operate – paving the way for military commanders to solve world problems. Any child understands that it would lead to the death of our civilisation.

The U.N. Charter states that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

There is no dispute in the world that cannot be resolved by peaceful negotiations. Figuratively speaking, we live in an “armed peace”, and in conditions of increasing threats and challenges.

What we need is the political will of world leaders to decide what kind of a world we want to live in – and for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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.

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