Inter Press Service » Health Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 13 Oct 2015 20:55:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pakistan Initiative Seeks to Improve Maternal-Child Care in Rural Areas Sun, 11 Oct 2015 19:27:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai

A pregnant woman is being examined at a local hospital in Bannu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 11 2015 (IPS)

“We are extremely happy over the government’s initiative to give money to the pregnant women and enable them to seek proper treatment,” said Sharif Ahmed at a basic health unit (BHU), near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Ahmed said he had brought her his wife to undergo ultrasound and other pregnancy-related investigations at the BHU and preempt any complications.

“My wife has already experienced miscarriage of a pregnancy two years ago due to lack of lack of tests. I didn’t have money to pay for medical examinations of my wife which resulted in miscarriage,” he told IPS.

Ahmed, a wage worker, is beneficiary of the scheme launched by the provincial government to cut maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by offering the equivalent of US$ 10 to each of the pregnant women per visit to the hospital.

It is the family’s second visit to this BHU. “We have got $20 so far. The money we received has been paid on transportation charges to reach this hospital. Without this, our visit couldn’t have been possible,” he said.

The KP is one four Pakistani provinces to start such a program. The World Health Organization’s Dr Kashif Ahmed told IPS that the province has 29 per cent literacy rate, lower than rest of the country, and accordingly many people aren’t aware of pregnancy-related problems or are too shy to be seen by doctors.

Pakistan ranks third in the world with an estimated 275 out of 100,000 number of maternal deaths, behind only India and Nigeria, he said.

“At present only 50 per cent of women in the province receive any form of ante-natal care and only 25 per cent are receiving any form of post-natal care from a trained birth attendant,” he said.

The KP government hopes that the $10 payments to pregnant women for each visit to public hospitals will encourage women to undergo at least three check-ups before birth and two after birth, for which they get a total amount of $50, with the aim of reducing maternal deaths from delivery-related complications.

Another challenge is that women in this male-dominated society are also not readily coming to hospitals because they want to be seen by women doctors and there is an extreme shortage of them, as well as of nurses.

KP’s director-general for health, Dr Pervez Kamal, told IPS that the majority of the province’s 2.2 million people live in remote rural areas and thereby have difficulty in accessing primary healthcare facilities. It is hoped that providing cash payments will enable them to hire transport and reach the hospitals, he said.

“We have also put the place the services of 500 women doctors or Lady Health Workers (LHWs) in all the 1,680 rural health centres in the province to encourage the women to come there and get examined by females,” said Kamal. Thousands of LHWs have been deployed at the community level to provide vaccination besides free check-ups to the childbearing women, he said.

“As of January 2015, a total of 5,678 women have benefited from the scheme and we are hopeful that we can reduce pregnancy-related deaths in the province,” he said.

Dr Kamal said that the government has also been campaigning aggressively through radio and television advertisements to inform the people about the incentives to the pregnant mothers so more people could avail the opportunities and preempt complications.

Professor Shamim Akhtar, a gynecologist at the district headquarters hospital in Mardan, one of the KP’s 26 districts, says the government’s initiative has been been having a positive impact. “We have recorded a 50 per cent increase in visits of the pregnant women at the outpatients department of the hospital because of the money provided by the government,” she says.

The women who are getting the money and free treatment are also communicating to their relatives and neighbours about the facilities, which has resulted in people have started coming to hospitals in droves, she says.

One pregnant patient at the Mardan facility, 20-year-old Jehan Bibi, told IPS that she had been informed by a woman in her neighborhood about free treatment and money that she would get if she want to the hospital. “I have given birth to a son two years ago but I faced lot of problems because of home-based delivery. I have no money to visit the doctors then. But now the situation is different and I will get a total of $50 which is enough to visit the hospital and pay for transportation cost,” said Bibi as she underwent ultra sonography.

“During my earlier pregnancy, my family didn’t allow me to venture out of home and get examined by male doctor which caused complications. Now, my family is also happy that I am getting examination by female doctors and my in-laws have no objection,” she said.


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Opinion: “Sanitation, Water & Hygiene For All” Cannot Wait for 2030 Fri, 09 Oct 2015 22:54:13 +0000 Geeta Rao Gupta

Dr Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), joined UNICEF in June, 2011, and brings over 20 years of experience in international development programming, advocacy and research to the UN children’s agency.

By Geeta Rao Gupta

The new Sustainable Development Goals, agreed upon recently by the member states of the United Nations, are all interconnected, as has been reiterated time and again. However, it is in the new Goal 6 – “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”—for which this interconnectedness is most apparent.

Geeta Rao Gupta

Geeta Rao Gupta

Water flows throughout the 2030 Development Agenda. And sanitation and hygiene underpin any possible gains from access to water.

If we do not reach Goal 6, the other goals and targets will not be reached. Progress in the areas of education, health, inequality and extreme poverty all depends on how well we do on water and sanitation.

The United Nations some years ago declared that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. However today, 663 million people are without access to adequate drinking water and 2.4 billion lack adequate toilets.

We at UNICEF are particularly concerned about the children, who are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to these basic needs.

It affects their health. Water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under five. Without access to sanitation hundreds of them fall ill and die every single day from preventable causes, particularly diarrhoea and other fecal-oral diseases.

It affects their education. In many communities, girls stay out of school because they need to fetch water; because they do not have a safe space to use when they menstruate; because they must help their mothers care for those who are sick – often from water-borne diseases.

It affects their nutritional status and their development. There is emerging evidence of direct linkages between lack of access to water and sanitation, and chronic malnutrition. Around 159 million children worldwide are stunted (short height for age), a condition which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. The repercussions of stunting can be felt beyond the individual child. It can significantly diminish the learning and future earning potential of entire generations, and thus negatively affect the local and national economy.

It affects equality and equity. One important aim in the new SDGs is the goal to reduce inequalities. New evidence from the World Bank shows that investing in water and sanitation for the poorest 20 per cent of a population yields greater economic returns than investing in the other quintiles and thus has the potential to reduce societal inequalities.

Our data from 45 developing countries show that in 7 out of 10 households, the burden of collecting water falls to women and girls, so access would also aid gender equity.

A side event in the margins of the UN General Assembly, hosted by the governments of the Netherlands, South Africa, Hungary and Bangladesh, concluded that targeting the poorest and the most marginalized will require an immense mind-shift for governments. But it must be done.

It cannot be done without strengthening institutions and improving the accountability of governments and service providers. And it will not be done without involving those who have the most at stake – the poor, women, and adolescents – in planning and in monitoring of services. Their influence has already been brought to bear in the drafting of Goal 6, the fastest agreed-upon goal.

It is no coincidence that impressive results are achieved by working closely with those directly affected. Partnership with them is not a ‘nice-to-have’ but a must-have.

In short, access to water and sanitation is not only a matter of dignity and human rights, but fundamental to our ability to attain any of the goals the governments of the world have just adopted.

We must start right away on working on Goal 6, and it can’t be business as usual: we need to start with the most disadvantaged, or we risk losing the gains we have so painstakingly made in the last 15 years, and we endanger the future. There is no time to waste.


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TPP is “Worst Trade Agreement” for Medicine Access, Says Doctors Without Borders Wed, 07 Oct 2015 19:28:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“The TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] will…go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries,” said Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement following the signing of the TPP trade deal.

The controversial agreement is the largest trade deal in a generation, bringing together 12 countries around the world including the United States to govern 40 percent of the world’s economy.

Negotiations on the TPP deal, initiated in 2008, finally came to a conclusion on Oct. 5 in the southern US city of Atlanta. It includes a range of economic policies including lowered tariffs as well as standards for labor law, environmental regulation, and international investments.

“This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement following the end of negotiations. He also noted that the deal has the “strongest” commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.

Though the deal has yet to be formally adopted by the signatories’ legislative bodies, it has already received criticism from numerous civil society members, including MSF, whose main concern arises from the deal’s provisions on data protection for biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs include any therapy from a biological source including vaccines, anti-toxins and monoclonal antibodies for diseases including cancer and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Brookings Institution, a US-based think tank, biologics are larger and structurally more complex than other drugs, making them more difficult and costly to develop. On average, biologics cost 22 times more than nonbiologics.

Due to these high costs, companies utilize data from the original drug creator to develop “biosimilars,” cheaper, generic versions of biologics. MSF has stated that this competition is the “best way to reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment.”

For instance, MSF treats almost 300,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 21 countries with generic drugs. These drugs have reduced the organization’s cost of treatment from US$10,000 per patient per year to US$140 per patient per year.

However, in the US, biologics creators have 12 years of data exclusivity. During this period, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot approve a biosimilar that utilizes original biologic data.

Data protection rules vary in other countries, while Peru, Chile and Mexico do not have any biologics data rules at all.

As part of the TPP negotiations, the U.S. sought to include the 12-year protection rule. Trade ministers went back and forth on the rule, finally settling on a mandatory minimum of five to eight years of data protection.

As a result, biosimilars will not be able to enter the market in countries that previously had no restrictions. According to MSF, this will lead to high, sustained drug prices by pharmaceutical companies, preventing individuals and health providers from acquiring affordable and essential medicines.

MSF predicts that at least half a billion people will be unable to access medicines once the TPP takes effect.

“The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries,” MSF said in its statement.

The organization urged governments and its legislatures to consider the consequences.

“The negative impact of the TPP on public health will be enormous, be felt for years to come, and will not be limited to the current 12 TPP countries, as it is a dangerous blueprint for future agreements,” MSF warned.


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Italy and Uganda Bag Right Livelihood Awards Fist Time Ever Thu, 01 Oct 2015 12:53:48 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri award_3

By Valentina Gasbarri
Rome , Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Right Livelihood Awards were announced today in Stockholm at the Swedish Foreign Office International Press Centre by Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director, and Dr Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

Ole von Uexkull said: “This year’s Right Livelihood Laureates stand up for our basic rights –be it the rights of indigenous peoples or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities, or the right of all citizens to live in a world free from the scourges of war and climate chaos.

With their tireless work, on the frontlines and in courts, the Laureates uphold the values that led to the creation of the United Nations seventy years ago.
In this year of global humanitarian crises, they provide an inspiring response to the defining challenges of our time.”

This year’s Award goes to a Pacific island state foreign minister, who has challenged the world’s nuclear powers through unprecedented legal action; to an indigenous leader who fights to protect the Arctic in the face of climate change; to a Ugandan human rights activist working against the discrimination of LGBTI communities in Africa; and an Italian doctor who has saved countless lives in war-torn countries are this year’s Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.

The Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, recognises the most inspiring and remarkable work of those who strive to meet the human challenges of today’s world, such as environmental, health, human rights and/or social justice. The work of those people, teachers, doctors, farmers, or simply, concerned citizens, becomes a holistic response in line with their struggle for a better future.

For the first time in the history of The Right Livelihood Award, the Award goes to Laureates from Italy and Uganda.

Gino Strada and his organization, Emergency, received the award for their “for his great humanity and skill in providing outstanding medical and surgical services to the victims of conflict and injustice, while fearlessly addressing the causes of war.” They contributed to provide medical assistance to the victims of conflict in countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was awarded “for her courage and persistence, despite violence and intimidation, in working for the right of LGBTI people to a life free from prejudice and persecution.”

Tony De Brum, and the People of the Marshall Island, was recognised for “their vision and courage to take legal action against the nuclear powers for failing to honour their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian citizenship-environmental activist, was awarded “for her lifelong work to protect the Inuit of the Arctic and defend their right to maintain their livelihoods and culture, which are acutely threatened by climate change.”

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Latin America to Adopt SDGs, Still Lagging on Some MDGs Wed, 23 Sep 2015 23:23:41 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

Maternal care during the pregnancy, birth and post-partum period is essential to reduce the high maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Credit: Courtesy of the Tigre municipal government

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

In the last 15 years, Latin America and the Caribbean have met several key targets included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), such as reducing extreme poverty, hunger and child mortality, incorporating more girls in the educational system, and expanding access to clean water.

However, as the world is setting out on a new challenge, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the roadmap from here to 2030 – the region must make a bigger effort to fight, for example, maternal mortality and teen pregnancy, two of its biggest failures with regard to the MDGs, partly due to a patriarchal, sexist culture.

“We don’t have to wait for an analysis of the MDGs to understand that the region is lagging in these areas,” Chilean Dr. Ramiro Molina, founder of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Adolescent Development, told IPS.

“The spending needed on sexual and reproductive health is low,” he added. “It hasn’t been clearly understood that it is absolutely indispensable to invest more in this area.”

The eight MDGs, approved in September 2000 by 189 heads of state and government at a United Nations summit, were aimed at addressing development deficits in the first 15 years of the new millennium.

And on Sunday Sept. 27, at another summit in New York, leaders from around the world will approve the post-2015 sustainable development framework, which includes 17 SDGs that make up what is now called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With these new goals, the international community will continue to fight inequality and work towards sustainable and inclusive development.

“Latin America and the Caribbean: looking ahead after the Millennium Development Goals”, a regional monitoring report published this month by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), says the region has met the goal for reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

Between 1990 and 2015, this region more than cut in half the proportion of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day: from 12.6 percent in 1990 to 4.6 percent in 2011.

The proportion of hungry people, meanwhile, was slashed from 14.7 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 5.5 percent in 2014-2016.

In addition, employment statistics are better today than at any other point in the last 20 years; access to and completion of primary education have increased; and the illiteracy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds fell from 6.9 percent in 1990 to 1.7 percent in 2015.

The region has also made significant progress in girls’ access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, and has narrowed the gender gap in politics.

But these advances stand in contrast to the lack of progress in other areas, especially with regard to MDG 5: reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health.

The ECLAC report stresses that in 2013 the overall maternal mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was 85 deaths per 100,000 live births, representing a 39 percent reduction with respect to 1990 – far from the 75 percent drop called for by the MDGs.

Adolescent pregnancy also remains a pressing problem in the region, with a live birth rate of 75.5 per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19.

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

Miriam Toaquiza and her daughter Jennifer in a hospital in Latacunga, Ecuador. She is the only girl in a special room for teenage mothers, thanks to public policies fighting the phenomenon. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

“Adolescence, their development and fertility are based on ignorance in our countries,” said Molina.

Tamara, now 23, is an illustration of this. When she was 13, her 27-year-old boyfriend got her pregnant.

The unexpected pregnancy forced her to drop out of school, although she was later able to complete her primary education. She never went to high school. Three years later she had her second son, with the same father.

“I missed out on several things: of course, support from my mother and my father, but above all, sex education,” the young woman, who preferred not to give her last name, told IPS.

Tamara had a difficult life. Her mother did not finish primary school and her father was a drug addict and alcoholic. She was a witness to domestic violence throughout her childhood.

From a young age, she was raped by the oldest of her six brothers, who went to prison for 10 years for what he did, when she finally decided to go to the police, without her mother’s consent.

Today, about to have her third child – with a different man this time, but someone just as absent as the father of her first two – she said she is fighting to make sure her children get an education.

“I make an effort every day for my kids to study, I try hard to educate them, because I don’t want them to suffer like I did. I want to break the circle,” she said.

In Molina’s view, to address the gaps in sexual and reproductive health, political intentions should translate into spending on primary sexual and reproductive health care services for adolescents, training on these issues for health professionals, and effective sex education programmes.

“Mexico’s good sex education programmes are only partially functioning; the excellent programmes that Costa Rica had have been discontinued; and Colombia has made enormous efforts to come up with really good sex education teaching materials, but they have practically been doomed to fail by political and strategic questions,” Molina said.

“Something similar is happening in Peru, where there have also been good programmes but they don’t have strategic or political support from the government,” he added. “Argentina gets good results, but with strong support from the government in developing sex education programmes. The same is true in Uruguay.”

According to the doctor, the case of Chile “is the worst of all,” because “we are plagued with opprobrium and shame.”

“We were the last country in the region to have a law protecting young people with sex education, which was passed in 2010 but did not enter into force until July 2014. The situation here is embarrassing,” he said.

He added that in order to meet the Agenda 2030 target for preventing teen pregnancies, merely making birth control available is not enough, “because I could drop condoms and pills from a helicopter but it wouldn’t be an effective measure.”

The issue, he said, is that people have to actually use the contraceptives, and need to know when and how to do so – which requires education.

“The goal is preventing the first pregnancy, and to do that what is needed is education, education, and when everything else has failed, education and more education. And as part of that education – broad, in-depth sex education, without ideological bias,” he added.

Molina also stressed that both maternal mortality and adolescent pregnancy “are no longer technical, but political, problems” which require that states be responsible and implement effective public policies, without worrying about facing up to conservative power groups “who are ignorant traditionalists, and cause us terrible damage.”

As the region gets ready to sign on to the SDGs, the new challenges call for a more holistic, participative, interdisciplinary and universal approach.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Fifteen Years and Forever Wed, 23 Sep 2015 19:01:21 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Sep 23 2015 (IPS)

The next 15 years will be decisive for our planet’s future.

During this period we will face some of the 21st Century’s greatest challenges, amidst an ongoing and profound transition in the global economy.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Overcoming hunger and extreme poverty are foremost among those challenges. Today nearly 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Yet enough food is being produced in the world to feed everyone. Clearly we need urgent solutions to overcome the structural bottlenecks that prevent the hungry from accessing food.

In other words, social inclusion must become the backbone of development. Yet we will achieve neither social inclusion nor development, unless our choices are guided by sustainability.

We are the first generation that can end hunger and make food and nutrition security truly universal. And perhaps we are also the last generation in a position to avoid irreversible damage brought about by climate change.

The political framework needed to move us in the right direction requires an unprecedented degree of political commitment.

One critical step in that direction will be taken later this month, when the international community endorses the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with an ambitious agenda to change the world for the better in the next 15 years.

This new global pact for the future crucially includes ending poverty and hunger by 2030, mitigating and adapting to climate change and finding more sustainable ways to make supply meet demand.

The choices we make as consumers have now become just as important for the future as the ones we make as producers.

In addition to the around 800 million people who are chronically undernourished, malnutrition is also a major problem with some two billion people suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and 500 million who suffer obesity, the latter a malady that is increasing in many medium- and high-income countries.

Paradoxically this is all happening in a world where nearly a third of all food produced is lost or wasted, generating even more pressure on production.

The world being envisaged through the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is not an unattainable pipe dream. It is not utopia; we can make it real.

The solution lies in the problem. As wealth continues to gain distance from justice, survival depends more and more on the imperative of cooperation.

Either we build a future for all, or there will be no acceptable future for anyone. Any doubt in this regard pales before the exodus we are witnessing where desperate refugees attempt often deadly land and sea crossings in a desperate attempt to find a better life elsewhere.

More than 70 percent of the world’s food insecurity is concentrated in the rural areas of poor and developing countries. One of the solutions is to acknowledge and support the role that small-scale family farming can play to achieve zero hunger in a sustainable way. To achieve this we need public policies that build people’s capacities, support production, facilitate access to financial credit, technology and other services and promote international cooperation.

To eradicate hunger and poverty we must begin by moving beyond dealing with emergencies when they occur and instead direct our efforts at addressing the conditions that cause them.

The cost of failure is clear. If a business-as-usual approach prevails, by 2030 we will still have 650 million hungry people.

We have estimated that to end hunger by 2030 a combination of investments in social protection and agriculture/rural development of some USD 267 billion is required. This means some USD160/year for each person suffering hunger

This is more or less the price of a cell phone. It is a relatively small amount to pay to finally rid the world of the scourge of hunger and to do it in our lifetimes. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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How to Fix Environmental Woes in Buenos Aires Shantytown Fri, 18 Sep 2015 21:06:03 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AVELLANEDA, Argentina, Sep 18 2015 (IPS)

Children have been poisoned by lead in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown on the south side of the capital of Argentina. Resettling their families involves a socioenvironmental process as complex as the sanitation works in one of the most polluted river basins in the world.

As soon as you enter Villa Inflamable, which is located right in the Dock Sud petrochemical hub in the Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda, you taste and feel chemicals and dust particles in your throat, saliva and lungs.

But in this shantytown, where more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution in precarious homes built on top of soil contaminated with toxic waste, the children suffer the problem in their blood.

“When she was one, she had 55 µg of lead in her blood. I had to put her in the hospital,” Brenda Ardiles, a local resident, told IPS, referring to her daughter, who is now three years old. Her other daughter, eight months old, is also suffering from lead poisoning.

Her mother-in-law, Nora Pavón, whose four children also have lead poisoning, said “Every night they get nosebleeds, they can’t stand the headaches, their bones hurt, but since there’s no transportation at night I can’t take them to the emergency room until the next morning.”

Lead poisoning in children is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a blood lead level of greater than 10 micrograms (µg) per decilitre of blood.

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and other chronic health problems, such as stunted growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing. Young children are the most vulnerable.

“One of my daughters is in third grade and the other is in fourth and they don’t know how to read. The doctors said the delay was caused by lead,” said Pavón.

Villa Inflamable suffers from all of the environmental problems that plague the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which cuts across 14 Buenos Aires municipalities before it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate. Of the more than 120,000 families living in 280 slums along the river, 18,000 are set to be relocated.

On one hand are the companies that pollute the river: petrochemical plants, oil refineries, chemical and fuel storage sites, and toxic waste processing plants.

On the other are the problems typical of poverty, such as substandard housing, flood-prone land, clandestine garbage dumps and a lack of sanitation.

“That lagoon is putrid, I don’t know what they dump there,” said Pavón, pointing to a swamp behind her home surrounded by trash, which functions as a natural sewer in the neighbourhood.

Of the five million people living in the river basin, 35 percent have no piped water and 55 percent have no sewage services.

“A lot of kids have diarrhea. The water pipes are polluted and the clandestine connections aren’t safe,” said Claudia Espínola, with the Junta Vecinal Sembrando Juntos, an organisation of local residents that jugs of clean drinking water in Villa Inflamable.

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) – created in 2006 – to clean up the area. In 2011, ACUMAR established an integral environmental clean-up plan.

The plan, whose goals include sustainable development, involves the reconversion of factories, the clean-up of rivers and riverbanks, garbage collection and treatment, water treatment and drainage works, and slum redevelopment or relocation.

It covers a total of 1,600 projects to be completed by 2024, including the construction of 1,900 housing units, with a total investment of four billion dollars.

“They offered us another place, but I said no because we are three families, 15 people living in this house. We couldn’t have fit in the other one, even if we worked wonders,” said Pavón, who did accept the offer of a second housing unit, although she complained that there wasn’t room for the children to play.

Many families did not accept the resettlement, for a variety of reasons. Some did not like the houses offered, while others were simply unaware of how serious the contamination was in their neighbourhood.

“Sometimes the houses are small, and many families are used to large lots. Others work or have their businesses in their homes, they’re garbage recyclers, and they don’t know how they could continue to work there,” Espínola told IPS.

Another reason, more difficult to solve, is the rivalry between the football teams of the old neighbourhood and the new one where they are to be resettled, also in the suburb of Avellaneda.

“It’s a longstanding problem between the fans of the Dock Sud and San Telmo clubs, a rivalry that is sometimes violent. It’s a cultural problem that we think we can work through, which we’re trying to do,” she said.

In Villa Inflamable, an environmental health centre now monitors the levels of contamination.

But according to Leandro García Silva, the head of environment and sustainable development in the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación, or ombudsperson’s office, which is monitoring compliance with the court-ordered clean-up, a risk map is needed first.

“The health system doesn’t have many tools to act on illnesses arising from environmental questions because the doctor can’t write a prescription for cleaning up the environment. We need to adapt public health tools to this new problem,” he said.

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

At the same time, ACUMAR has undertaken ambitious infrastructure projects, like the construction of an 11-km sewage collector and an 11.5-km outfall, with 840 million dollars in financing from the World Bank. The project, which will prevent the direct discharge of untreated sewage into the Río de la Plata, is to be completed in 2016.

ACUMAR director of institutional relations Antolín Magallanes told IPS that the collector is a tunnel on one side of the Riachuelo to carry sewage to two settling tanks in Dock Sud and Berazategui. The tank is already operating in the latter.

“The collector is very important because 70 or 80 percent of the pollution in the Riachuelo comes from sewage. This will almost completely resolves the issue,” he said.

In addition, six waterfall aeration stations will be built to add oxygen to the water, projected by the Argentina’s water and sanitation utility, AySa, and the University of Buenos Aires.

“The clean-up chapter is extremely important; the planned infrastructure works will provide greater sanitation and treatment, above all in sewage effluent and the potable water supply,” said Javier García Espil, coordinator of the Riachuelo team in the Defensoría.

“But if this is not accompanied by environmental management – that is, zoning, monitoring of industries, flood control, and new forms of using this territory – it would be a limited response,” he told IPS.

ACUMAR stepped up inspections in this region, which accounts for 30 percent of Argentina’s GDP.

“We have around 13,000 registered companies, of which some 7,000 are industrial, and we have identified 1,254 pollutants. Some 900 have already presented reconversion plans,” said ACUMAR’s Magallanes.

The Defensoría recognises these advances but says the credit made available for the reconversions and strategic plans has been insufficient.

“The problem is not simply inspecting and adjusting some process, which is necessary but is part of a bigger problem: defining what kind of industries we want in the future – a major pending challenge,” said the García Espil.

“New mechanisms have to be put in place: environmental management with zoning, taking into consideration the capacity of ecosystems, and the complexity of the territory, involving social participation,” said García Silva.

It has been seven years of complex struggle to remedy two centuries of neglect of a river basin which according to Magallanes “has been the historic refuge of millions of people who didn’t have anywhere to go because of social problems.”

Pavón, an immigrant from the northern province of Chaco, summed it up: “I would go back to the Chaco, which is healthier and nicer for raising kids, but there’s no work. I saw on the news that a kid died of malnutrition there.”

She tried to return to her hometown anyway, “to see if the kids’ lead blood levels went down.” But the attempt failed because she couldn’t find work. Between malnutrition and lead, she had to choose lead.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Activists Say Fracking Fails to ‘Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’ Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:12:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MONTROSE, Pennsylvania, USA , Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

U.S. activist Vera Scroggins has been sued five times by the oil industry, and since October 2013 she has faced a restraining order banning her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest players in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

“I feel like a half-citizen, because corporations can do whatever they want and citizens can’t. Corporations have broken environmental laws and keep working,” the retired real estate agent, who is a mother of three and grandmother of two, told IPS.

Since 2008 Scroggins, with the Shaleshock Media network of artists and media activists, has been fighting hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to produce shale gas, in the rural community of Montrose, Pennsylvania, population 1,600.

In Montrose, which is in Susquehanna County, there are some 1,100 wells in 600 gasfields, as well as 43 compressor stations, which help the transportation process of natural gas from one location to another.“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed.” -- Tyson Slocum

This infrastructure, owned by seven companies, is near homes and schools.

The Marcellus shale formation stretches across the northeastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is one of the large shale gas deposits that have led to the United States being dubbed “Frackistan”.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas trapped there on a massive scale. The technique is considered damaging to health and the environment.

Fracking generates enormous volumes of liquid waste that must be treated for reuse, as well as emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide, the most important cause of global warming.

“The wells pollute the water and the methane escapes into the air. Many people don’t know what’s going on, they don’t have information. I don’t feel safe with how fracking has been done,” said Scroggins, who lives in Montrose with her husband, a retired teacher. There is a gas well just one kilometre from their home.

Fracking, with its tall steel drilling rigs, has modified the local landscape, along with the constant traffic of trucks hauling soil, sand and water.

Activists complain that the development of industry in rural areas like Montrose is ruining the countryside, while the accumulation of methane can lead to explosions or respiratory ailments among local residents.

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that about 11.34 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas was produced directly from shale gas in the United States in 2013 – about 47 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production that year.

And about 4.2 million barrels per day of crude oil were produced directly from shale oil or tight oil resources in the United States in 2014 – 49 percent of total U.S. crude oil production.

Oil is the main source of energy in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of the total, followed by natural gas (27 percent), and coal (19 percent).

In Pennsylvania, gas production soared from 9,757 cubic feet in 2008 to 3.05 million in 2013.

In this state, the site of the first U.S. oil boom, 9,200 wells have been drilled, and over 16,000 permits for fracking have been granted.

The United States is the country that is most heavily exploiting shale gas and oil at a commercial level.

Fracking was given a boost in 2005, when the Energy Policy Act exempted the technique from seven major federal environmental laws, ranging from protecting clean water and air to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment.

With that backing, the industry unleashed a flood of lawsuits seeking to dismantle local and state environmental, health and contractual regulations adverse to its interests.

In the case of Pennsylvania, the state legislature approved the Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) in September 2012, which restricted local governments’ ability to zone and regulate natural gas drilling and required municipalities to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.

But city councils, local residents and environmental organisations fought the law, and in 2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down sections of it, saying they were unconstitutional and violated citizens’ environmental rights. This allowed local communities to once again apply zoning rules in granting permits for shale gas production.

Along the side of the road, the traveller constantly sees signs reading Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. But what is happening in rural areas does not seem to be in line with the slogan.

Ray Kimble, a 59-year-old mechanic, has experienced that contradiction in Dimock Township, where he lives. He told IPS that in his community, which is near Montrose, the water has been polluted since 2009 by drilling and fracking operations.

“They have damaged the town. We don’t want them here,” said Kimble, who added that he has a chronic cough and his ankles are swollen from contact with toxic waste while he worked for the industry as a driver.

Now he refuses to drink the tapwater and dedicates his time to carrying clean water to families affected by the contamination.

Dimock, population 1,500, was featured in the prize-winning documentary “Gasland” by U.S. filmmaker Josh Fox, which exposed the damage caused by fracking and helped spawn the first lawsuits against the shale gas industry, which were settled out of court.

Kimble’s house is just over 150 metres from a gas well.

“There are short-term profits with shale gas, but what happens when the wells dry up and the waste is left?” activist Tyson Slocum remarked to IPS.

“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed,” said Slocum, the director of the Energy Programme of Public Citizen, a consumer interest group that has provided advice to people affected by fracking.

The industry is now facing the sharp drop in international oil prices, the credit crunch, and growing public opposition to fracking.

In the last eight months, some 400 towns and cities in 28 states have adopted vetoes or moratoriums on fracking. The most far-reaching decisions were taken in the states of Vermont, the first to ban fracking, in 2012, and New York, which did so in December.

“Why don’t they build a well besides a politician’s home? Citizens don’t want them near our houses,” said Scroggins.

“I hope there won’t be a major leak, because it will be devastating. But the industry doesn’t acknowledge it has done something bad,” the activist added.

Slocum says the states have bowed to the industry’s interests. “The balance between profits and public health has been vilified, the debate on jobs and economic benefits is secondary,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Ban Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

After banning in vitro fertilisation for 15 years and failing to comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling for nearly three years, Costa Rica will finally once again allow the procedure for couples and women on their own.

On Sept. 10, centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree ordering compliance with the Inter-American Court’s 2012 verdict against the ban fomented by conservative sectors. The president ordered that measures be taken to overcome judicial and legislative barriers erected against compliance with the Court judgment.

“This was discriminatory,” lawyer Hubert May, the representative of several of the 12 couples who brought the legal action against the ban before the Court, told IPS. “The ban only affected those who couldn’t afford to carry out the procedure abroad, or those who weren’t willing to mortgage their homes or take out loans to fulfill their longing (for a child of their own).”

In November 2012, the Court ruled that the ban on in vitro fertilisation (IVF) violated the rights to privacy, liberty, personal integrity and sexual health, the right to form a family, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to have access to technological progress. It gave Costa Rica six months to legalise the procedure.

But opposition from conservative sectors blocked compliance and hurt Costa Rica’s image in terms of international law.

Solís’s decree regulates IVF and puts the public health system in charge of the procedure, thus ensuring access for lower-income couples.

May said the decree “solves the problem of discrimination” by paving the way for the social security institute, the CCSS, to provide IVF as part of its regular health services.

IVF is a reproductive technology in which an egg is removed from a woman and joined with a sperm cell from a man in a test tube (in vitro). The resulting embryo is implanted in the woman’s uterus.

In its 2012 ruling, the Court stated that Costa Rica was the only country in the world to expressly outlaw IVF, a measure that directly affected local women and couples. In Latin America the procedure was first used in 1984, in Argentina.

One of the women affected by the ban was Gretel Artavia Murillo, who with her then husband ran up debt in an attempt to have a baby in the late 1990s.

Her now ex-husband, Miguel Mejías, declared before the Court that he had mortgaged his home and spent all his savings for the couple to undergo in vitro fertilisation in Costa Rica, but before they were able to do so, the practice was declared illegal.

IVF was first regulated in Costa Rica in 1995, but was banned in March 2000 by the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven magistrates on the constitutional chamber argued that the law violated the right to life, which began “at conception, when a person is already a person…a living being, with the right to be protected by the legal system.”

Artavia and Mejía, along with 11 other couples, brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2001, and a decade later it reached the Inter-American Court. The Commission and the Court are the Organisation of American States (OAS) autonomous human rights institutions.

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

A year later, the Court, which is based in the Costa Rican capital, San José, and whose rulings cannot be appealed and are theoretically binding, handed down its verdict.

“The constitutional chamber’s view was not shared by the Court, which considered that protection of life began with the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterus,” said May.

May and other experts on the case said the position taken by Costa Rica’s highest court responded to the extremely conservative views of the leadership of the Catholic Church, and of other Christian faiths with growing influence in the country.

This Central American nation of 4.7 million people considers itself a standard-bearer of human rights in international forums. But the question of IVF tarnished that image when the conservative sectors took up opposition to it as a cause.

The debate in the legislature on a law to regulate IVF stalled for over two years, due to resistance by evangelical and conservative lawmakers.

In a Sep. 3 public hearing by the Court on compliance with the 2012 ruling, the executive branch said it planned to regulate the procedure by means of a decree, which civil society organisations saw as a reasonable solution to the stalemate over the new law.

“We know that in the legislature there is no way to forge ahead on key issues, such as practically anything to do with sexual and reproductive rights,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who specialises in these rights, told IPS.

Arroyo pointed out that with regard to an issue like IVF, time is of the essence, given that a woman’s childbearing years are limited. She noted that “almost all of the victims lost their chance” to have children using the technique.

In the week between the public hearing and the signing of the presidential decree, the government consulted Costa Rica’s College of Physicians and the CCSS. While both backed the decree, the CCSS clarified that it preferred a law and warned that it would need additional funding, because each fertility treatment costs around 40,000 dollars.

The decree limits the number of fertilised eggs to be implanted to two.

In the same week, the legislative debate became further bogged down. While one group of legislators tried to expedite approval of the law to regulate IVF, another group continued to oppose the procedure as an attack on human life at its origin, likening it to the Jewish holocaust.

“The extermination camps of Nazi Germany are in the Costa Rica of today, the Costa Rica of the Solís administration,” evangelical legislator Gonzalo Ramírez, of the conservative Costa Rican Renewal Party, even said at one point.

Given that outlook and the impasse in the legislature, organisations like the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) celebrated the decree which offers “universal access” to IVF and “respect for the principle of equality.”

However, CEJIL programme director for Central America and Mexico Marcia Aguiluz recommended waiting until IVF is actually being implemented.

“The decree lives up to the requirements, but it is just a first step,” said Aguiluz, who is from Costa Rica. “Until the practice starts being carried out, we can’t say there has been compliance.”

Lawyers for the presidency said the decree is equipped to withstand legal challenges.

The 2012 ruling is the second handed down against Costa Rica in the history of the Court. The previous one was in 2004, when the Court found that the conviction of journalist Mauricio Herrera by a Costa Rican court on charges of defamation of a diplomat violated free speech, and ordered that the country enact new legislation on freedom of expression.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: From Inequality to Inclusion Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:57:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in economic inequality, thanks primarily to growing recognition of some of its economic, social, cultural and political consequences in the wake of Western economic stagnation.

The unexpectedly enthusiastic reception for last year’s publication of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” underscores this sea change.New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside.

Piketty has correctly renewed attention to the connections between the functional and household/individual distributions of income as well as to wealth inequality. Clearly, the distribution of wealth (capital, real property) is the major determinant of the functional distribution of income.

And by textbook economics’ definition, profit maximisation involves capturing economic rents of some kind – from finance, monopolistic intellectual property rights (IPRs), ‘competitive advantage’, producer surplus, etc., presumably thanks to successful rent-seeking, by influencing legislation, regulation, public policy, public opinion and consumer preferences.

As is understandable and the norm, Piketty’s focus is on inequality at the national level, rather than at the global level. But Branko Milanovic and others have shown that about two-thirds of overall world interpersonal or inter-household inequality is accounted for by inter-country inequality, with the remaining third due to what may be termed class and other intra-national inequalities.

International inequality

There are many competing explanations for international inequalities. Historical differences in capital accumulation, including public investments, and productivity are commonly invoked to explain different economic capacities, capabilities and incomes.

But frequently unsustainable foreign investments also lead to significant net outflows, greatly diminishing the net benefits from additional economic capacities. Financial flows to the settler colonies from the late 19th century were exceptional in this regard. Generally, a small share of foreign direct investment actually enhances economic capacities, instead mainly contributing to acquisitions and mergers.

Financial globalisation in recent decades, especially capital market flows, have not ensured sustained net flows from capital-rich to capital-poor economies, but has instead worsened financial volatility and instability, increasing the frequency of crises with traumatic effects for the real economy, and growth sustainability.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that international trade lifts all boats, it has generally favoured the richer countries at the expense of their poorer counterparts. For well over a century, except during some notable periods and some rare minerals more recently, the prices of primary commodities have declined against manufactures.

This has been especially true of tropical agriculture compared to temperate products, as productivity gains have accrued to consumers more than to producers. In recent decades, cut-throat competition has meant a similar fate for developing country manufactured exports compared to the large marketing margins of manufactures from developed economies.

Social protection

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, the call to address inequality as a crucial challenge for development has emerged as an issue to be addressed in the post-2015 development framework.

Inequality gradually came back into development debates after the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF focused flagship publications on this issue a decade ago, with the publication of the UN 2005 Report on the World Social Situation entitled The Inequality Predicament, the World Development Report 2006, and the 2007 World Economic Outlook on Globalization and Inequality.

The ongoing effects of the global financial and economic crisis since 2008 have reinforced recognition that inequality has been slowing not only human development, but also economic recovery. But this has not led to any fundamental change in economic policy thinking or a major commitment to redress inequality at the global or even national level, except perhaps by improving taxation.

Instead, it has led to a consensus to establish a global social protection floor, recognising not only that poverty and hunger in the world will not be eliminated by more of the same economic policies, especially with the currently dim prospects for sustained economic and employment recovery and growth.

Historically, the welfare state emerged in developed countries to address deprivations in the formal economy – retirees, retrenched workers, military veterans and mothers among others. Social protection and other fiscal interventions do not fundamentally challenge wealth or income distribution, and current thinking is mindful of the potentially unsustainable burden of a welfare state.

New thinking on social protection recognises that most of the poor and vulnerable in developing countries are outside the formal economy, with almost four-fifths of the poor living in the countryside. The new interventions thus seek to accelerate the transition from protection to production, for greater resilience and self-reliance.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “We Must Put Everything Aside and Just Focus on Water” Fri, 04 Sep 2015 21:18:56 +0000 Stella Paul The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
STOCKHOLM, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

Globally, more than 748 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. That is more than double the population of the entire United States.

United Nations data suggests that 1.8 billion people – that is 500 million more than the population of China – drink water that is faecally contaminated. Every year, over two million people die due to a lack of clean water.

"I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life." -- Rajendra Singh, winner of the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize
According to the latest World Water Development Report, demand for water could rise by 55 percent by 2050, an increase driven primarily by the manufacturing sector.

As the international community shifts its poverty eradication framework from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to its highly ambitious sustainable development agenda, the issue of water has never been more critical.

Between the din of policymakers trapped in endless high-level debates and scores of citizens feeling the pinch of drought, thirst and water transmitted illness – some sources say that 5,000 children die every day as a result of water-borne disease – a few voices are making themselves heard, lending clarity to one of the world’s most complex and urgent problems.

Among them is Rajendra Singh, the winner of this year’s prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prize for water”, for his 35-year-long commitment to water management and conservation.

Singh himself has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘Water Man of India’ and is credited with reviving an ancient rainwater harvesting technique that has breathed new life into several rivers and returned clean, running water to over 1,200 villages in his home state of Rajasthan, located in the north-east of the country.

With its massive rivers and their countless tributaries making up one of the most complex freshwater systems in the world, India provides an excellent case study in water management.

Over 150 million people in this country of 1.2 billion currently live without access to fresh water, compounding widespread poverty and raising serious questions about energy, environmental degradation and sustainable development.

On the sidelines of the recently concluded World Water Week 2015, IPS correspondent Stella Paul sat down with the renowned Indian water activist to hear his views on the future of this scarce and incredibly precious resource.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: You always say, “We do not need new policies. We need water action”. What do you really mean by that?

A: Let me speak of India.

In India, there is no dearth of policies and acts; there are many [laws] regarding water conservation, water management and water use. But these policies and acts are not executed properly, which is why there is no concrete action. Now we need to start clear, community-driven, decentralized work on water. And the role of the government in [this type of] water management is very important: providing adequate resources to communities and creating an environment that is conducive to taking action.

There should be joint action between the government and the community for water management. We need four things for that: water literacy, water conservation, water management and efficient use of water.

Q: You say the government should create the environment and provide the resources for water action. It is often thought that ‘resources’ means ‘money’, which comes from the private sector. How do you respond to that?

A: Change never comes from the private sector’s money. For real change, we need the government and the community. What we need is not corporatization, but communitization of democracy. If [the] corporate [sector] does everything, then, where is the democracy?

In Rajasthan, we have many corporations, but we also have a water parliament. We maintained the community’s rights here. We maintained a democratic environment. People rose up here. Wherever people rose for their rights, those robbing society had to run away. Corporations are here and they are here to stay – but it is important to see that they do not loot the people and that they do not pollute the system.

Q: We are entering the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In regards to water, what must the government do differently, compared to what it did during the MDGs?

A: Life, livelihood and dignity – all of these three are linked to water. In the SDG era, we have to give the highest priority to water. We have to put everything aside for a while and just focus on water. We shouldn’t get tangled [up in] projects, indicators and the LFAs (Logical Framework Approach), but stay focused on actual work.

Today there is massive encroachment of water bodies. To prevent this encroachment, we must conduct identification, demarcation and notification of the water bodies. In many cases, due to erosion, there is a lot of silt in the water and since there is no clear title of the water body, the real estate lobby encroaches upon it.

Encroachment on the river is a problem that is found across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other regions as well. Poverty in the [Asian] region is a result of a water crisis, because of disrupting people’s water rights. If we end this, we can make the entire region water adequate.

For instance, the [2005] National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was originally created to revive and reshape the country’s water system. The then Minister of Agriculture in India, Raghunath Singh, came to us, saw my work and decided to design a programme through which action can be taken in regards to water.

The same should be done again. NREGA should be mandated to focus only on water.

Q: You were on the board of Mission Clean Ganga [the third-largest river in India]. Can the river be ever truly revived?

A: It’s difficult but not impossible. But the government is only engaging with engineers, technicians etc. The government has not engaged with the sons and daughters of the Ganga – the people. If the government truly involves people in the Clean Ganga Mission, it can take a maximum of 10 years to revive the river.

In fact, any of the country’s dead rivers – the Musi River, the Mithi River, etc – can be revived in 10-15 years. What we need is the political will of the government and the participation of common people.

I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Killing of Aid Workers Threatens Humanitarian Response in Yemen Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:53:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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CORRECTION/Who Will Pay the Price for Australia’s Climate Change Policies? Wed, 02 Sep 2015 21:43:34 +0000 Neena Bhandari Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Rowan Foley has spent many years as a ranger and park manager, caring for Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Aboriginal lands in the spiritual heart of Australia’s Red Centre in the Northern Territory. He has been observing the effects of soaring temperatures and extreme weather events on his people, residing in some of the hottest regions of the country.

“There are hotter and more frequent fires. Salt water intrusion is leading to less fresh water. This is impacting on indigenous traditional owners of the land, who have contributed the least to global warming,” says Foley, who belongs to the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people, Traditional Owners of Fraser Island and Hervey Bay in the state of Queensland.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts [of climate change] are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities." -- Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia
Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is on an average likely to experience more global warming than the rest of the world. Increasing drought, floods, heatwaves and bushfires are already impacting on the country’s environment and economy, further disadvantaging Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the most vulnerable in remote and island communities.

“The Coconut Islands in the Torres Strait are under threat from sea level rise. [For Indigenous people], their culture and heritage are tied to the island and they would have nowhere to go. We are also seeing spikes in heat related deaths,” says Kellie Caught, climate change national manager for the World Wildlife Fund-Australia.

Deaths from heatwaves are projected to double over the next 40 years in Australian cities and sea levels are projected to continue to rise through the 21st century at a rate faster than over the past four decades, according to a recent report by the independent organisation Climate Council.

To support the sustainable development of Aboriginal lands by combining traditional practices and business needs, Foley launched the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, a national not-for-profit company, in partnership with Caritas Australia, five years ago.

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have traditionally managed the land in the savannah regions of tropical northern Australia by making small fires in winter. This prevents uncontrolled late-season fires from destroying the land and also reduces the amount of carbon produced by wildfires in the atmosphere.

The Fund has set up a programme whereby farmers and land managers undertake carbon farming, which allows them to earn carbon credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or capture carbon in vegetation and soils.

These credits are then sold to organisations and businesses wishing to offset their own emissions. Payment for carbon credits is helping create sustainable livelihoods in remote communities.

“Carbon farming is an agribusiness and we urgently need a development package to support this industry,” says Foley, the Fund’s general manager.

Similarly, civil society advocates say that being one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world, Australia has huge potential for solar power and wind energy.

But the country’s Liberal-National coalition has slashed renewable energy targets and repealed carbon and mining taxes.

“Our government has gone to extreme lengths to repeal or undermine climate and clean energy policy,” Tom Swann, a researcher with the Canberra-based The Australia Institute, told IPS. “If Australia succeeds in its plans to double its exports in the next 10 years, the world loses in its plans to tackle climate change.

“More coal mines mean lower coal prices, less renewable energy and more climate impacts. Indeed, meeting the two-degrees centigrade target, to which Australia has signed up, means 95 percent of Australia’s coal must stay in the ground, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he can think of ‘few things more damaging to our future’,” Swann added.

Coal is Australia's second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second largest export and this year it is forecast to generate 346 billion Australian dollars (253 billion U.S. dollars) in foreign sales, according to Australia’s Department of Industry and Science. Australia exports 80 percent of the coal it mines and currently meets three-quarters of the country’s electricity needs from burning coal.

A survey by The Climate Institute released on Aug. 10 showed 84 percent of Australians prefer solar amongst their top three energy sources, followed by wind at 69 percent.

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to a 19 percent cut on 2000 levels).

WWF’s Caught says, “The Australian Government’s pollution reduction target is woefully inadequate and not consistent with limiting warming below two degrees centigrade. If all countries matched Australia’s targets the world would be on track for a 3-4 degree centigrade warming. The target puts Australia at the back of the pack on international action.”

The United States and the European Union proposals will mean emission reductions of around 2.8 percent a year whereas Australia’s proposals will yield a 1.8 percent reduction, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Environment groups argue that it is economically feasible for Australia to move to a low carbon economy.

“The Government’s draft 2030 target is estimated to reduce GDP growth by 0.2-0.3 percent over the next 15 years,” Caught told IPS.

“With a stronger 45 percent target, it would only reduce growth by 0.5-0.7 per cent over the same time. Our GDP would make up that small difference in growth in just a few months.”

Community sector organisations are especially concerned that people experiencing poverty and inequality will be hardest hit by sea level rise inundating low-lying coastal areas, reducing crop yields and forcing migration of millions of people; and they would be the least able to adapt.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities,” says Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia, an international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church.

“Given this denialism, our government is in no way ready or prepared to take in and support people and whole communities that will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of climate change.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) figures estimate a third of the global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors and children under five bear more than 40 percent of that burden, even though they represent just 10 percent of the world’s population. They are more at risk from waterborne diseases and more likely to be impacted by air pollution.

Save the Children Campaigns Manager, Tim Norton, told IPS, “Wealthier nations such as Australia must scale up its contribution to international climate finance, such as The Green Climate Fund, to 400 million Australian dollars [285 million U.S. dollars], independent of its aid budget.

“This provides the best opportunity for Australia to actively contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities in the developing world. It also allows nations to transition to low-emission clean economies without the need of fossil fuels.”

Australia scores highest with 26.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emissions per capita, contributing 1.3 percent of global emissions, according to 2011 data from the WRI, even though it has a relatively small population of 23.8 million people.

A 2015 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute of International Policy recorded the third consecutive rise in Australians’ concern about global warming, with 63 percent saying the government should commit to significant emissions reductions so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same at the Conference of States Parties (COP-21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this December.

*The story that moved on Sep. 2 incorrectly attributed the following quote to Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Officer Cassandra Goldie: “We need new measures to shift from dirty coal to renewable energy, including a commitment from all parties to at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrians Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:34:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida

Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move – banned under international law – is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera’a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up – by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo – making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country’s water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera’a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars – a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the U.N. system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the U.N. marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikes Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

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

By Kanya D'Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqis Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

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

By Kanya D'Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awards Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel

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

By Nora Happel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zones Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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