Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:08:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Dumped, Abandoned, Abused: Women in India’s Mental Health Institutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:08:44 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138927 Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

Following the birth of her third child, Delhi-based entrepreneur Smita* found herself feeling “disconnected and depressed”, often for days at a stretch. “Much later I was told it was severe post-partum depression but at the time it wasn’t properly diagnosed,” she told IPS.

“My marriage was in trouble and after my symptoms showed no signs of going away, my husband was keen on a divorce, which I was resisting.”

“The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.” -- Smita, a former resident of an Indian mental health institution
After a therapy session, Smita was diagnosed as bi-polar, a mental disorder characterised by periods of elevated highs and lows. “No one suggested seeking a second opinion and my parents and husband stuck to that label.”

One day after she suffered a particularly severe panic attack, Smita found 10 policemen outside her door. “I was taken to a prominent mental hospital in Delhi where doctors sedated me without examination. When I surfaced after a week I found that my wallet and phone had been taken away.”

All pleas to speak to her husband and parents went unheeded.

It was the beginning of a nightmare that lasted nearly two months, much of it spent in solitary confinement. “The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.”

On one occasion, when she stopped eating in protest after she was refused a phone call, she was dragged around the ward. “There were women there who told me they had been abused and molested by the staff.”

Not all the women languishing in these institutions even qualified as having mental health problems; some had simply been put there because they were having affairs, or were embroiled in property disputes with their families.

Days after she was discharged her husband filed for a divorce on the grounds that Smita was mentally unstable.

“I realised then that my husband was building up his case so he would get custody of the kids.”

Isolated and afraid, Smita did not find the strength or support to fight back. Her husband won full custody and left India with the children soon after. “My doctor says I am fine and I am not on any medication but I still carry the stigma. I have no access to my kids and I no longer trust my parents,” she told IPS.

Smita’s story points to the extent of violence women face inside mental health institutions in India. The scale was highlighted in a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, ‘Treated Worse than Animals’, which said women often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence.

Ratnaboli Ray, who has been active in the field of mental health rights in the state of West Bengal for nearly 20 years, says on average one in three women are admitted into such institutions for no reason at all. Ray is the founder of Anjali, a group that is active in three mental institutions in the state.

“Under the law all you need is a psychiatrist who is willing to certify someone as mentally ill for the person to be institutionalised,” Ray told IPS. “Many families use this as a ploy to deprive women of money, property or family life. Once they are inside those walls they become citizen-less, they lose their rights.“

Ray points to the story of Neeti who was in her early 20s when she was admitted because she said she heard voices. “When we met her she was close to 40 and fully recovered, but her family did not want her back because there were property interests involved.”

With the help of the NGO Anjali, Neeti fought for and won access to her share of family property and was able to leave the institution.

Those on the inside endure conditions that are inhumane.

“There is hardly any air or light. Unlike the male patients who are allowed some mobility within the premises, women are herded together like cattle,” says Ray. In many hospitals women are not given underclothes or sanitary pads.

Sexual abuse is rampant. “Because it is away from public space and there is an assumed lack of legitimacy in what they say, such complaints are nullified as they are ‘mad’,” adds Ray.

Unwanted pregnancies and forced abortions impact their mental or physical health. They languish for years, uncared for and unattended.

“One can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the male and female wards,” points out Vaishnavi Jaikumar, founder of The Banyan, an NGO that offers support services to the mentally ill in Chennai, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“You will find wives and mothers coming to visit male patients with food and fresh sets of clothes, while the women’s wards are empty.” Experts also say discharge rates are much lower when it comes to women.

The indifference towards patients is evident not just in institutions, but also at the policy level, with mental health occupying a low rung on the ladder of India’s public health system.

According to a WHO report the government spends just 0.06 percent of its health budget on mental health. Health ministry figures claim that six to seven percent of Indians suffer from psychosocial disabilities, but there is just one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people.

That ratio falls even further for psychologists, with just one trained professional for every million people in India.

Furthermore, the country has just 43 state-run mental hospitals, representing a massive deficit for a population of 1.2 billion people. With the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) present in just 123 of India’s 650 districts, according to HRW, the forecast for those living with mental conditions is bleak.

“Behind that lack of priority is the story of how policymakers themselves stigmatise,” contends Ray. “The government itself thinks [the cause] is not worthy enough to invest money in. Unless mental health is mainstreamed with the public health system it will remain in a ghetto.”

Depression is twice as common in woman as compared to men and experts say that factors like poverty, gender discrimination and sexual violence make women far more vulnerable to mental health issues and subsequent ill-treatment in poorly run institutions.

Gopikumar of The Banyan advocates for creative solutions that are scientific and humane like Housing First in Canada, which reaches out to both the homeless and mentally ill. The Banyan is presently experimenting with community-based care models funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian government.

“Our model looks at housing and inclusivity as a tool for community integration,” says Gopikumar. “The poorest in the world are people with disabilities and most of them are women. They are victims of poverty on account of both caste and gender discrimination and its time we open our eyes to the problem.”

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marine Resources in High Seas Should be Shared Equitablyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:07:38 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138914 An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

After almost 10 years of often frustrating negotiations, the U.N. ad hoc committee on BBNJ decided, by consensus, to set in motion a process that will result in work commencing on a legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use, including benefit sharing, of Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction.

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

As a consequence, the General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution in the summer of 2015 establishing a preparatory committee to begin work in 2016 which will be mandated to propose the elements of a treaty in 2017, to be adopted by an intergovernmental conference.

The Ad Hoc Working Group, established in 2006, has been meeting regularly since then. In 2010, for the first time, it adopted a set of recommendations which were elaborated methodically until the momentous decision on Saturday.

This decision will impact significantly on the biggest source of biodiversity on the globe.

The political commitment of the global community on BBNJ was clearly stated in the 2012 Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”, largely at the insistence of a small group of countries which included Argentina, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the European Union (EU).

It recognised the importance of an appropriate global mechanism to sustainably manage marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

In 2013, GA resolution A/69/L.29 mandated the UN Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the 69th Session of the GA.While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

During the past few years our understanding of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction has advanced exponentially. The critical need to conserve and sustainably use this vast and invaluable resource base is now widely acknowledged.

The water surface covers 70 percent of the earth. This marine environment constitutes over 90 percent of the volume of the earth’s biosphere, nurturing many complex ecosystems important to sustain life and livelihoods on land. Two thirds of this environment is located in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The contribution of oceans to the global economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents based on them are being filed annually.

The value of these patents is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is increasingly obvious that mankind must conserve the resources of the oceans and the associated ecosystems and use them sustainably, including for the development of new substances.

At the same time, unprecedented challenges confront the marine environment and ecosystems. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean warming, coral bleach and ocean acidification, to name a few, pose a severe threat to marine biological resources. Many communities and livelihoods dependent on them are at risk.

While 2.8 percent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine protected areas, only 0.79 percent of such areas are located beyond national jurisdiction. In recent times, these protected areas have become a major asset in global efforts to conserve endangered species, habitats and ecosystems.

While the management of areas within national jurisdictions is a matter primarily for states, the areas beyond are the focus of the challenge that confronted the U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group.

Developing countries have insisted that benefits, including financial benefits, from products developed using marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction must be shared equitably.

The concept that underpinned this proposition could be said to be an evolution of the common heritage of mankind concept incorporated in UNCLOS.

The Ad-Hoc Working Group acknowledged that UNCLOS, sometimes described as the constitution of the oceans, served as the overarching legal framework for the oceans and seas. Obviously, there was much about the oceans that the world did not know in 1982 when the UNCLOS was concluded.

Given humanity’s considerably better understanding of the oceans at present, especially on the areas beyond national jurisdiction, the majority of participants in the Ad Hoc Working Group pushed for a new legally binding instrument to address the issue of BBNJ.

Last Saturday’s decision underlined that the mandates of existing global and regional instruments and frameworks not be undermined; that duplication be avoided and consistency with UNCLOS maintained.

The challenge before the international community as it approaches the next stage is to identify with care the areas that will be covered by the proposed instrument in order to optimize the goal of conservation of marine biodiversity. It should contribute to building ocean resilience, provide comprehensive protection for ecologically and biologically significant areas, and enable ecosystems time to adapt.

The framework for sharing the benefits of research and developments relating to marine organisms needs to be crafted sensitively. Private corporations which are investing heavily in this area prefer legal certainty and clear workable rules.

An international instrument must establish a framework which includes an overall strategic vision that encompasses the aspirations of both developed and developing countries, particularly in the area of benefit sharing.

Facilitating the exchange of information between States will be essential to achieve the highest standards in conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. They will need continued capacity building so that they can contribute effectively to the goal of sustainable use of such resources and benefit from scientific and technological developments.

To address the effects of these complex dynamics, the proposed instrument must adopt a global approach, involving both developed and developing countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Brazil Can Help Steer SDGs Towards Ambitious Targetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-brazil-can-help-steer-sdgs-towards-ambitious-targets/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 08:45:16 +0000 Daniel Balaban http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138883 Children having a daily lunch meal at a kindergarten in a poor community in Salvador, Bahia. Brazil's National School Feeding Programme is an example of one of the far-reaching programmes implemented in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

Children having a daily lunch meal at a kindergarten in a poor community in Salvador, Bahia. Brazil's National School Feeding Programme is an example of one of the far-reaching programmes implemented in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

By Daniel Balaban
BRASILIA, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

With the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring at the end of this year to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will set priorities for the next fifteen years, 2015 will be a crucial year for the future of global development.

As a country with an outstanding performance in reaching the MDGs, Brazil can play an important role in shaping and achieving the SDGs.

Extensive consultations with governments and civil society have been held in recent years, and consensus around many issues has been established and channelled into a series of documents that will now guide the final deliberations on the exact content of the SDGs. September 2015 has been set as deadline for their endorsement by U.N. member states.

Daniel Balaban, Director of WFP's Centre of Excellence against Hunger.   Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

Daniel Balaban, Director of WFP’s Centre of Excellence against Hunger. Credit: Carolina Montenegro/WFP

A Working Group has identified 17 goals encompassing issues such as poverty, hunger, education, climate change and access to justice. While some of these topics were already covered by the MDG framework, there is a new set of goals with emphasis on the preservation of natural resources and more sustainable living conditions, meant to reverse contemporary trends of overuse of resources and destruction of ecosystems.

As governments quickly move to adopt the SDGs, they must capitalise on what has been achieved with the MDGs to secure new targets that will go beyond the lowest common denominator.

Brazil has a compelling track record in achieving the current MDGs, and it can use its experience to influence the final negotiations of the SDGs towards ambitious targets.

The country has already reached four of the eight targets – eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and combating HIV – and it is likely to achieve the remaining targets by the end of the MDG deadline.“As governments quickly move to adopt the SDGs, they must capitalise on what has been achieved with the MDGs to secure new targets that will go beyond the lowest common denominator”

Through a set of innovative and coordinated policies, Brazil has tackled these different areas and demonstrated that it is possible to radically decrease poverty and hunger within a decade, giving special attention to the most vulnerable groups.

The National School Feeding Programme, for example, is one of the far-reaching programmes implemented so far. In 2009, the existing policy was upgraded to recognise school feeding as a right, whereby all students of public schools are entitled to adequate and healthy meals, prepared by nutritionists and in accordance with local traditions.

At least 30 percent of the food used to prepare these meals must be procured from local producers, with incentives to the purchase of organic produce.

The programme also devotes additional resources to schools with students of traditional populations, often exposed to food insecurity.

Another feature of the policy is the participation of civil society through local school feeding councils, which oversee the implementation of the programme, as well as financial reports produced by municipalities.

Altogether, the programme tackles a wide range of issues, combining action to combat hunger, ensure adequate nutrition (including of the most vulnerable groups), support local farmers and involve civil society, in line with principles of inclusion, equity and sustainability, which are also guiding principles of the future SDGs.

It is a good example of how the incorporation of innovative features to existing policies can result in more inclusion and sustainability while optimising resources.

As it occupies a more prominent role on the world stage, Brazil has been active in promoting such policies in multilateral fora, in addition to investing in South-South cooperation to assist countries to achieve similar advances.

The WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger is the result of such engagement. In the past three years, the Centre been supporting over 30 countries to learn from the Brazilian experience in combating hunger and poverty.

Brazil is now in a position to showcase tangible initiatives during the SDGs negotiations to prove that through strong political commitment it is possible to build programmes with impact on a range of areas.

Such multi-sectorial action and articulation will be required if countries around the globe are determined to tackle humanity’s most urgent needs related to hunger, adequate living standards for excluded populations, and development, while reversing the trend of climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources.

The world is at a crossroads for ensuring sustainability. If the right choices are not made now, future generations will pay the price. However daunting the task may be, this is the moment to do it.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* Daniel Balaban, an economist, is the Director of World Food Programme’s (WFP) Centre of Excellence against Hunger. He has also led the Brazilian national school feeding programme as President of the National Fund for Education Development (FNDE), which feeds 47 million children in school each year. In 2003, he served as the Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Council of Economic and Social Development under the Presidency of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

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Marginalised Groups Struggle to Access Healthcare in Conflict-Torn East Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:25:19 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138875 Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

With international organisations warning that East Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as its health system collapses, marginalised groups are among those facing the greatest struggle to access even basic health care in the war-torn region.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has affected more than five million people, with 1.4 million classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and human rights bodies as “highly vulnerable” because of displacement, lack of income and a breakdown of essential services, including health care.

Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

A complete lack of vaccines is threatening outbreaks of diseases such as polio and measles, while there are concerns for HIV/AIDS and TB sufferers as supplies of vital medicines dry up and disease monitoring becomes almost impossible.Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

Massive internal displacement because of the conflict – latest U.N. estimates are of 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) with the figure rising by as much as 100,000 per week – has also left hundreds of thousands living in sometimes desperate and unhygienic conditions, creating a further health risk and the chance that infectious diseases, such as TB, will spread.

But while there is a threat to healthcare provision from collapsing resources, some in the region are facing extra barriers to accessing health care.

Ukraine has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world and the spread of the disease has been fuelled mainly by injection drug use. But, unlike in many Eastern European states, the country has been running for more than a decade an internationally lauded range of harm reduction programmes which have been credited with checking the disease’s spread.

These have included opioid substitution therapy (OST) programmes available to drug users across the country. These are particularly important in East Ukraine because the majority of Ukraine’s injection drug users come from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

But local and international organisations working with drug users say that addicts’ access to life-saving treatment in those areas has come under increasing pressure since the start of the conflict and that it could be cut off entirely within weeks as supplies of methadone and buprenorphine used in the treatment run out and cannot be replaced.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine which runs many OST centres as well as other harm reduction programmes, has said that stocks of antiretroviral drugs, OST and other life-saving treatments will have run out by  February.  More than 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began, while a further 550 patients on methadone will run out of drugs soon if emergency supplies cannot be delivered.

U.N. officials in close contact with international organisations helping drug users as well as doctors in Donetsk have confirmed to IPS that clinics have only a few weeks’ worth of stocks of methadone left.

One doctor in Donetsk working on an OST programme, who asked not to be named, told IPS:  “There are serious problems with medicine supplies. The last shipments came in September last year and some patients have already had to finish their treatments. Many had been on it for a decade and in that time had forged new lives, put their, sometimes criminal, past behind them and had families. It was absolutely tragic for them when they stopped.”

It is unclear what will happen to all those no longer able to access OST treatment. Doctors say some have gone into detoxification, while others have moved to other cities in safer areas of Ukraine in the hope of continuing OST.

But with 60 percent of those receiving OST also being HIV positive, according to the Donetsk doctor, and reports that many are now turning to illicit drugs and needle-sharing again as access to OST is cut off, there are concerns that the disease, along with Hepatitis C which is rife among injection drug users, and tuberculosis, could be spread, and that the lives of many drug users will again be at risk.

OST patient Andriy Klinemko, who was forced to flee Donetsk with his wife when their house was destroyed in bombing last summer and who is now in Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, told IPS: “OST patients in East Ukraine are being forced to move, but not all of them can and even those that make it to other regions may not be able to continue OST because there is no money left to run such programmes. It’s a bad situation and at the moment I really can’t see any way it’s going to get better.”

But drug users are not the only marginalised community struggling to access health care.

Historically, the estimated 400,000-strong Roma community in Ukraine has, like Roma in many other Eastern European states, faced widespread discrimination in society, including in employment and education.

They have also always had limited access to healthcare because many Roma lack official ID documentation which makes it difficult for many to obtain official health care, while widespread poverty also means services and medicines which require any payment are also inaccessible to most. Meanwhile, many Roma settlements are in remote locations, far away from the nearest health centres.

Dr Dorit Nitzan, head of the WHO’s Ukraine Office, told IPS: “Even before the conflict, Roma in Ukraine had limited access to curative and preventive health service. As a result, Roma children have extremely low vaccination coverage. Moreover, rates of tuberculosis and other communicable and non-communicable diseases are higher among Roma than in the general population.”

Discrimination is also a problem. Zola Kondur of the Chiricli Roma rights group in Ukraine, told IPS: “In terms of healthcare, Roma are among the most vulnerable in the country. They are treated badly because of their ethnicity.”

However, the problems for Roma have dramatically worsened since the conflict began. Some human rights groups have said that since the separatist regimes took power in the region, Roma have faced systematic violent and sometimes fatal repression.

According to a report this month of an international mission to monitor human rights

by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Roma living in separatist-controlled areas have been “subjected to open aggression from militants ….[who] have carried out real ethnic cleansing” against them. Many have fled and become IDPs, subsequently facing health struggles.

Dr Nitzan said: “As in every crisis, if not given special attention, marginalised and vulnerable groups are at higher risk. In Ukraine, many Roma lack civil documentation, and thus cannot be registered as internally displaced persons and are not included in the provision of any health services.

“Moreover, their inability to pay ‘out-of-pocket’ limits their ability to procure medication and/or services. Compounding this is that many Roma IDPs are residing at the margins of society, in remote geographical locations, where no services are available. All of these factors make health services inaccessible to Roma.”

Local rights groups say that Roma who have managed to flee to safe areas have often ended up homeless and starving after facing problems accessing aid because of a dismissive attitude from volunteers and staff at social institutions, while their lack of identification documents also prevented them from accessing any official help.

However, even those who have managed to find treatment have sometimes faced further problems.

Kondur told IPS: “In one case a Roma family moved from Kramatorsk to Kharkiv. A little boy had a heart problem brought on by the stress of the fighting and he was taken to hospital. One night, a group of young people broke the window of the boy’s hospital room, shouting ‘Gypsies get out’. The boy had a heart attack.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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When Ignorance Is Deadly: Pacific Women Dying From Lack of Breast Cancer Awarenesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 04:15:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138872 Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

Women now face a better chance of surviving breast cancer in the Solomon Islands, a developing island state in the southwest Pacific Ocean, following the recent acquisition of the country’s first mammogram machine.

But just a week ahead of World Cancer Day, celebrated globally on Feb. 4, many say that the benefit of having advanced medical technology, in a country where mortality occurs in 59 percent of women diagnosed with cancer, depends on improving the serious knowledge deficit of the disease in the country.

"While cancer is included on the NCD [non-communicable diseases] list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness." -- Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji
“Breast cancer is a health issue that women are concerned about in the Solomon Islands, but adequate awareness of it among women is not really prioritised,” Bernadette Usua, who works for the local non-governmental organisation, Vois Blong Mere (Voice of Women), in the capital, Honiara, told IPS.

Rachel, a young 24-year-old woman living with her two children, aged three and five years, in one of the country’s many rural villages, did not know what breast cancer was when she detected a lump in her breast in August 2013.

But the lump grew larger prompting her to travel to Honiara several months later to see a doctor.

“She went to the central hospital and was advised to have her left breast removed, but due to the little knowledge that she and her husband had about what it would be like, both were afraid of the surgery,” Bernadette Usua, who is Rachel’s cousin, recounted.

“So they just left the hospital without any medication or other assistance, and went home,” she continued.

Rachel tried traditional medicine available in her village, but the cancer and pain became more aggressive. Usua remembers next seeing her cousin in July of last year.

“She was sitting on her bed night and day with extreme pain, unable to lie down and sleep. But she was still brave as she nursed herself, washed herself and cooked for her children. She cried and prayed until she passed away in September,” Usua recalled.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and in the Solomon Islands, where it accounted for 92 of more than 200 diagnosed cases in 2012. But its incidence in the developing world, where 50 percent of cases and 58 percent of fatalities occur, is rapidly rising.

Low survival rates of around 40 percent in low-income countries, compared to more than 80 percent in North America, are due mainly to late discovery of the disease in patients and limited diagnosis and treatment offered by under-resourced health centres.

Last year Annals of Global Health revealed that of 281 cancer cases identified in women in the Solomon Islands in 2012, 165 did not survive, while in Papua New Guinea and Fiji fatalities occurred in 2,889 of 4,457, and 418 of 795 diagnosed cases, respectively.

Insufficient public knowledge about the disease is an issue across the region.

“Currently public health education and promotion is focussing heavily on the control of NCDs [non-communicable diseases] as a whole. While cancer is included on the NCD list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness,” said Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji, a Pacific Island state home to over 880,000 people.

In the Solomon Islands, mammograms, or x-rays of the breast, will now be free to all female citizens who comprise about 49 percent of the population of more than 550,000. This is after installation of digital mammography equipment, funded by the national First Lady’s Charity, in Honiara’s National Referral Hospital.

Dr. Douglas Pikacha, general surgeon at the hospital, explained that mammograms were vital to early detection of breast disease and the saving of women’s lives through early treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy.

Mammography is considered the most effective form of breast cancer screening by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with some evidence that it can reduce subsequent loss of life by an estimated 20 percent, especially in women aged 50-70 years.

But with more than 80 percent of the population residing in rural areas and spread over more than 900 different islands, Josephine Teakeni, president of Vois Blong Mere, is deeply concerned about the fate of many women who are located far from the main health facilities in the capital. An estimated 73 percent of doctors and all medical specialists in the country are based at the National Referral Hospital.

She says that reliable breast cancer screening and diagnosis is urgently needed in provincial hospitals if the mortality rate is to be reduced. Most patients must travel an average of 240 kilometres to reach the National Referral Hospital, commonly by ferry or motorised canoe, given the prohibitive expense of internal air services.

There is also a critical shortage of health care workers in the country with 0.21 doctors per 1,000 people and Teakeni claims that “while waiting for an operation the delay can result in full advancement of the cancer and death.”

However, there is a further challenge with almost half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer refusing a mastectomy, which involves the partial or entire surgical removal of affected breasts, even though it may result in the patient’s recovery, the Ministry of Health reports.

“Many prefer traditional treatment to mastectomy because they believe it is more womanly to have their breast than to live without it,” Pikacha said.

The high risk of cancer mortality is another factor impacting gender inequality in the Pacific Island state where entrenched cultural attitudes and widespread gender violence, experienced by 64 percent of women and girls, hinders improvement of their social and economic status.

Teakeni believes that an urgent priority is dramatically improving “awareness among women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and even simple tests that women can do themselves, such as checking the breast for lumps while having a shower,” as well as the importance and impact of medical treatment.

Still, the installation of the new mammogram machine gives women on this island something, however small, to celebrate.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Developing Nations Write Hopeful New Chapters in a Toxic Legacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:35:56 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138854 Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

The village of Dong Mai in Vietnam’s agricultural heartland had a serious problem.

To boost their meager incomes, its residents – former artisans who once produced and sold bronze casts – had taken to cannibalizing old car and truck lead-acid batteries and smelting them by hand in their own backyards. As a result, the 2,600 people living there had some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded."Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it." -- Stephan Robinson

Dong Mai’s water and soil had become terribly contaminated — 32-36 times higher than the acceptable limits. People were getting sick, including children. One home assessed with an X-ray Florescence (XRF) analyser had lead levels 50 times the higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.

Local government knew of the problem, but the cost of cleaning it up – expected to run into the millions – was daunting. Then, a collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth found ways to remediate the lead for much less: about 20 dollars a person.

Once major remedial work was completed, in February 2014, lead levels in the population fell by nearly a third in six months.

“Political will takes time to build,” Rich Fuller, Blacksmith’s president, told IPS. “Governments need solid data on the scope of problems, and how to solve them. Most governments are just starting to build their teams for pollution, and those NGOs that provide support, rather than criticism, have really been a huge help.”

Together with Green Cross Switzerland and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), the Blacksmith Institute released a report Tuesday highlighting cleanup success stories like Dong Mai’s.

Top Ten Countries Turning the Corner on Toxic Pollution notes that pollution kills more than 8.9 million people around the world each year, most of them children, and the vast majority — 8.4 million — in low- and middle-income countries.

To put that figure in perspective, it is 35 percent more than tobacco-related deaths, almost three times more deaths than malaria and 14 times more deaths than HIV/AIDS.

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

“Contrary to popular belief, many of the worst pollution problems are not caused by multinational companies but by poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining, small industrial estates or abandoned factories,” Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland told IPS.

“However, high-income countries are indirectly contributing by their demand for commodities and consumer goods to the issue as many of these small-scale operations produce the raw or precursor products,” he added. “They thus support many of these smaller industries, adding to the severity of pollution problems in low-income countries.”

Lead, the culprit in Dong Mai, is especially devastating for children. It can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, and in cases of extreme exposure, result in death. Children also tend to have higher exposures because they play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

The economic toll of pollutants on poor and middle income countries is high: the costs of air pollution alone range between six and 12 percent of GDP.

Previous Blacksmith reports had focused on the 10 worst toxic hotspots, but this year, the groups chose to look at practical, replicable solutions that don’t require a vast amount of resources to implement.

“There is so much to do,” Fuller said. “Only a few countries have started down the path. We wanted to give them credit, and have them be examples for expanding work on pollution in other countries.”

In the case of Dong Mai, mobilising the active participation of villagers and local officials was key.

Instead of removing the contamined soil and carting it off to landfills, the backyards were capped with sand, a layer of geotextiles, 20 centimetres of compacted clean soil, bricks, and finally, concrete on top, safely sealing away the lead.

After an educational campaign, 50 villagers took on the task of remediating their own yards in this way. What could have cost about 10 million dollars was accomplished for 60,000.

“GAHP members are encouraged to help their neighbours,” Fuller said. “Often, a success in one country can translate into a project in another.  This is certainly true of lead poisoning and e-waste. The GAHP model is collaborative between international agencies, and between countries, all helping each other work out how to solve these awful problems.”

The other success stories in the report were led by Ghana, Senegal, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, the Former Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal, lead battery recycling was replaced with profitable hydroponic gardens.

In Mexico City, a contaminated oil refinery was turned into an urban park with one million visitors a year.

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, informal e-waste recycling by burning electronic scrap that released toxins is now performed safely by machines.

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

“We worked hard to find solutions that would work for the local recyclers,” Kira Traore, Blacksmith’s programme director for Africa, says in the report. “Simply banning burning wouldn’t help them earn an income. Rather, forbidding burning in Agbogbloshie might push the practice elsewhere, thus expanding the pollution and the number of people affected by it.”

Experts note that local sources of pollution – particularly heavy metals like mercury and arsenic – are often very mobile and can have health impacts thousands of kilometres away.

“Mercury from unsafe artisanal gold mining and coal plants travels the globe and is found in our fish which, e.g., we eat as sushi in London,” Robinson said. “DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is found in the body fat of the inhabitants of Greenland, though there was never agriculture in Greenland.

“Contaminated air from China and elsewhere can be measured in other countries. Radionuclides from nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, have reached other countries in most of Europe,” he noted.

In essence, rich countries have not only a moral obligation but a vested interest in helping poorer nations address pollution.

“Western nations have had success in cleaning up their toxic and legacy pollution over the last 40 years and can transfer technology and know-how to low- and middle-income countries today. Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it,” he said.

“Pollution problems can only be solved by organisations joining forces and bringing in what they are best at…These are stories proving we are on the right track, and moving forward. But we need to do more with industrialisation in full swing around the world.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Zimbabwe Faces Troubling Spike in Cases of Multi-Drug Resistant TBhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-faces-troubling-spike-in-cases-of-multi-drug-resistant-tb/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 23:29:26 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138812 Caring for MDR-TB patients at home or even at taking them to hospitals is a challenge for relatives, especially as the disease is uncertain to completely go away after treatment. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Caring for MDR-TB patients at home or even at taking them to hospitals is a challenge for relatives, especially as the disease is uncertain to completely go away after treatment. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

About eight years ago, 44-year-old Tilda Chihota was struck with tuberculosis which kept her bed-ridden for over six months at her rural home in Zimbabwe’s Mwenezi district, 144 kilometres southwest of Masvingo, the country’s oldest town.

Although Chihota later recovered after receiving treatment at a local district hospital here, early this year, she was once again struck with the same ailment. This time is came with increased severity in the form of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).“MDR-TB cases will continue to increase and worsen as long as the backlog of TB cases keeps increasing." -- Dr. Charles Sandy

MDR-TB occurs when a strain of TB bacteria becomes resistant to two or more “first-line” antibiotic drugs prescribed to combat standard TB.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, cases of MDR-TB nearly doubled from 156 in 2011 to 244 cases in 2013. This was despite the fact that notifications for ordinary TB drastically declined from 47,000 in 2010 to 38,367 in 2012.

“I am HIV-positive, but because I defaulted on taking treatment drugs, doctors have diagnosed me with MDR-TB,” Chihota told IPS.

Cases of MDR-TB like Chihota’s are common among people who are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the United Nations AIDS organisation (UNAIDS). Close to 80 percent of TB patients in the care of Doctors Without Borders are co-infected with HIV/AIDS.

“The best way of avoiding MDR-TB is prevention through strict adherence to prescribed treatment by the health provider,” Dr. Charles Sandy, deputy director for the AIDS and TB unit in Zimbabwe’s Health ministry, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it takes longer to treat MDR-TB, which can only be cured with the use of very expensive second line drugs that often cause serious side effects.

These include nausea, vomiting and permanent deafness, which often deters patients from finishing their treatment course. On average, patients need to take between 12 and 15 tablets daily for two years, which cost about 5,000 dollars for the entire course.

“The treatment drugs required per each MDR-TB patient are quite expensive and involve the use of quantities of resources enough to treat more than 100 TB patients, which is a strain on government’s public health sector,” Everson Murwira, a local health inspector based in Gweru, a town 222 kilometres west of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, told IPS.

Medical doctors also point out a litany of many other factors fuelling rising cases of MDR-TB here.

“Food insecurity, large numbers of Zimbabwe’s population living in destitution, lack of balanced diet and crowded and often poorly ventilated homes in both the countryside and high density suburbs in cities leads to TB patients not recovering, but rather further suffering from MDR-TB,” Tinashe Chauke, a private medical doctor often treating TB patients in Masvingo, told IPS.

Chauke added that because most Zimbabweans are poor, “they can hardly afford to visit doctors for regular medical check-ups, resulting in most former TB patients falling prey to MDR-TB.”

But government could be doing more to combat TB.

At last year’s World TB Day commemorations, Health Minister Dr. David Parirenyatwa expressed concern at the number of missed TB cases here, saying that based on WHO projections, Zimbabwe missed 30,000 TB cases in 2013 alone.

“We continue to miss TB cases because of stigma and lack of awareness in the community and limitations in access to health services as well as the quality of health services,” Dr. Parirenyatwa said at the time. World Tuberculosis Day falls on Mar. 24 each year.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors without Borders in English) says direct observed treatment is the best model to manage MDR-TB.

“Direct observed treatment of MDR-TB patients in their homes by their loved ones is the best option, but in Zimbabwe, only doctors and nurses can inject patients and nobody else, which creates a challenge for patients,” an MSF medical doctor in Harare, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

With the help of MSF two years ago, 3,200 patients in Zimbabwe were placed under treatment for TB while 63 patients were treated of MDR-TB.

Government cooperation with MSF, however, has been spotty. In a recent case, an MSF clinic in Beitbridge district near the South African border that treated HIV/AIDS and TB was forced to close after government officials accused the clinic of meddling in politics.

According to MSF, Zimbabwe trails behind other countries in Southern Africa in its response to TB. Diagnostics need improving and treatment needs to be decentralised to community levels, the health agency said in a recent report.

A 2010 UNICEF report revealed that 78 percent of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people were living in ‘absolute poverty’, following which the WHO global tuberculosis report of 2012 placed Zimbabwe’s estimated TB incidence per capita at 603 per 100,000 population.

“Besides inadequate medical facilities, there are also many cases where sick people have needlessly died because they could not access medical attention due to bad or nonexistent roads,” said Edmond Kabarapate, the village head of Kafurambanje Village, said in a recent press interview.

Although Zimbabwe has made significant strides in reducing HIV/AIDS infections to 15.6 percent from 16 percent in 2007, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it is still a sad story for this country as it contends with the menace of MDR-TB.

“MDR-TB cases will continue to increase and worsen as long as the backlog of TB cases keeps increasing,” Dr. Sandy told IPS.

Evident of Dr Sandy’s sentiments, the 2009 WHO Global TB Control Report rated Zimbabwe as having the fourth highest incidence of TB in the world. In 2012, the WHO reported that the Southern African nation was amongst 22 countries referred to as the TB “high burden” countries.

Caught up in difficult health situations, especially MDR-TB, many Zimbabweans like Chihota are unsure whether or not they will live after contracting the disease.

“Whether for better or for worse, with the MDR-TB that is wasting me away, taking the complex treatment prescribed to me, I am still very uncertain about what the future holds in as far as my state of health and even my survival is concerned,” Chihota told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zimbabwe’s Children Are the Battlefield in War to Contain HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwes-children-are-the-battlefield-in-war-to-contain-hivaids/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 21:39:58 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138689 Many children under 15 in Zimbabwe discover their HIV status only when they fall critically ill later in life. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Many children under 15 in Zimbabwe discover their HIV status only when they fall critically ill later in life. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 17 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-one-year-old Mateline Msipa is living with HIV. Her 17-year-old daughter, born after Msipa was diagnosed with the virus, may also have it, but she has never been tested.

“My daughter is not aware of my HIV status and with the stigma associated with the disease, it is hard for me to now open up to her about my status,” Msipa told IPS.“Talk of rejection, talk of stigma and discrimination about HIV-positive people here has rendered me confused on whether or not I should get tested for HIV/AIDS, although I don’t know what killed my parents." -- 13-year-old Tracey Chihumwe

Msipa’s daughter says she has never attempted to undergo an HIV test despite Zimbabwe’s revised testing guidelines allowing children of her age to get one without parental consent.

“I have no reason to get tested for HIV because I have never engaged in sexual intercourse before,” the 17-year-old told IPS.

Figures show that thousands of children in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV – presenting a major battlefield for government efforts to defeat the spread of HIV /AIDS nationwide.

The U.N. agency UNAIDS estimates that nearly 200,000 children from birth to age 14 have the virus but are not in treatment because they have not been properly tested. It is a trend that researchers term “suboptimal” counseling and testing in that southern African country.

“Children often get tested for HIV [only] when they fall critically ill, which usually doesn’t save them from dying,” Letwin Zindove, an independent health expert who works as an HIV/AIDS counselor here, told IPS.

The new estimate threatens to dash the southern African nation’s effort to meet a U.N. goal of reversing the incidence of infection in the population by 2015.

Older children – between six and 15 – who might have acquired HIV at birth are especially vulnerable to a major outbreak of full-blown AIDS. A study last year by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found this group received inadequate access to provider-initiated HIV testing and counselling by primary care-givers.

Lack of clear national standards for HIV/AIDS testing leads to confusion and missed diagnoses in some cases. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Lack of clear national standards for HIV/AIDS testing leads to confusion and missed diagnoses in some cases. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

The study found health-care workers were reluctant to offer testing which could expose the child to abuse if he or she tested positive. On top of this, long waiting periods for appointments also hindered routine testing and counseling.

Last year, Zimbabwe launched its revised national guidelines for HIV testing and counselling with special emphasis on couples, children and adolescents as it stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus ahead of the 2015 deadline of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Under these guidelines, a child aged 16 years or older is eligible to give full consent for HIV testing and counselling.

However, the study found that many healthcare workers don’t fully understand the new guidelines.

“They expressed confusion about the age at which a child could choose to test him/herself, what type of caregivers qualified as legal guardians, and whether guardians had to undergo testing themselves first,” it said.

The appearance of a slow-progressing HIV disease among children has also contributed to dangerous delays in testing. New research has found that a substantial number of HIV-infected children survive to older adulthood. Delaying testing and diagnosis until symptoms appear results in a high risk of chronic complications such as stunting and organ damage.

Under the U.N.’s MDG Target 6A, countries should have halted new infections and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.

Zimbabwe’s numbers of HIV incidence may be high (14.7 percent of adults) but the numbers are higher yet in South Africa (17.8 percent), Botswana (23 percent), Lesotho (23.6 percent), and Swaziland 25.9 percent.

Countries with low numbers are Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Benin, Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania and Somalia – ranging from 1.0 percent to 0.7 percent.

While most countries are achieving a measure of success towards the U.N. goal, two have been a major health care disappointment.

Uganda, once hailed as a Cinderella success story, and Chad have seen a rise in infections. It is a disappointing turnaround from the 1990s when an aggressive public awareness campaign that urged medical treatment and monogamous sexual relationships led to a precipitous drop in infection rates in Uganda.

In 2012, H.I.V. infection rates in Uganda were seen to have increased to 7.3 percent from 6.4 percent in 2005. Over roughly the same period, the United States, through its AIDS prevention strategy known as Pepfar, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, spent 1.7 billion dollars in Uganda to fight AIDS.

Activists say children are not immune to the deep-rooted stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS here — another barrier to testing.

“Zimbabweans are one huge community, closely-knit, and once a child is tested for HIV, it becomes difficult for it to remain confidential, resulting in any child tested becoming exposed to stigma,” Sifiso Mhofu, an affiliate of the Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV, told IPS.

This problem is very real for orphans like 13-year-old Tracey Chihumwe (not her real name) from Mabvuku, a high-density suburb of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

“Talk of rejection, talk of stigma and discrimination about HIV-positive people here has rendered me confused on whether or not I should get tested for HIV/AIDS, although I don’t know what killed my parents,” Chihumwe told IPS.

The Zimbabwean government is now struggling to ensure to that 85 percent of the population – including children and adolescents – knows their HIV status by the end of this year, in a desperate bid to meet the MDGs deadline in December.

But this will not be an easy task.

“Despite revised guidelines of HIV testing for children, pockets of resistance to get children tested for the virus exist from children themselves, parents and guardians as well,” a top government official, who requested to remain anonymous for professional reasons, told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives and Kitty Stapp

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Humanity’s Future: Below Replacement Fertility?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:51:42 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138669 A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Is below replacement level fertility the future for humanity? The answer to this seemingly simple question regarding human reproduction is not only of considerable demographic concern, but also has enormous social, economic and environmental consequences for the planet.

Aside from a global mortality catastrophe, the future size of the world’s population is determined basically by the number of children women bear. If the average number of births per woman remains more than about two, world population continues to increase.

However, if women on average have less than two births, then world population eventually decreases. A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman under low mortality conditions is the replacement level, which over time results in population stabilisation.

Throughout most of human history women bore many children. In addition to offsetting high rates of infant and child mortality, a large number of children provided valuable assistance, needed labour and personal meaning to rural households as well as old-age support to parents.

At the beginning of the 20th century average global fertility was still about six births per woman. By 1950 world fertility had declined slightly to five births per woman, with less than a handful of countries having rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

At that time, most of the largest countries, such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey, had rates of six or more births per woman. In addition, 29 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Rwanda, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, had average fertility rates of seven or more births per woman.

As a result of the high fertility rates and comparatively low death rates, world population grew very rapidly during the 20th century, especially in the second half. World population nearly quadrupled during the past century, an unprecedented demographic phenomenon, increasing from 1.6 to 6.1 billion.

Also during the past 50 years, historic declines in fertility rates occurred, resulting in a halving of the world’s average rate to 2.5 births per woman. Those remarkable fertility declines are unequivocal and widespread, with lower rates in virtually every country.

In 1950, 101 countries, or 44 percent of world population, had a fertility rate of six or more births per woman. Today 12 countries – with all but two in sub-Saharan Africa, representing five percent of world population – have a fertility rate of six or more births per woman.

In addition, the transition from high fertility to below replacement levels took place in all European countries as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. The transition to below replacement fertility also occurred across a broad and diverse range of developing countries, including Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Iran, Lebanon, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Tunisia and Vietnam. In sum, 75 countries, or close to half of the world’s population, are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

With regard to future fertility levels, two key questions stand out. First, will countries with below replacement fertility remain at those levels? And second, in the coming decades will the remaining 126 countries also end up with below replacement fertility?

While future fertility rebounds cannot be ruled out, the general pattern over the last five decades has been unmistakable: once fertility falls below the replacement level, it tends to stay there. That trend has especially been the case for the many countries where fertility has fallen below 1.6 births per woman, such as Canada, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Some countries consider sustained below replacement fertility as a threat to their economies and societies and have attempted to return to at least the replacement level through various pro-natalist policies, programmes and incentives, including reduced taxes, subsidised care for children and bonuses. However, such government attempts have by and large not achieved their objectives.

The forces that brought about declines in fertility to historic lows are widely recognised and include lower mortality rates, increased urbanisation, widespread education, improvements in the status of women, availability of modern contraceptives and delayed marriage and childbearing.

Other important factors include the costs of childrearing, employment and economic independence of women, divorce and separation, the decline of marriage, co-habitation, childless lifestyles and the need to save for longer years of retirement and elder care. Those forces and factors are likely to continue and become increasingly widespread globally.

According to United Nations medium-variant population projections, by mid-century the number of countries with below replacement fertility is expected to nearly double, reaching 139 countries (Figure 1). Together those countries will account for 75 percent of the world’s population at that time.

Some of the populous countries expected to fall below the replacement fertility level by 2050 include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. Looking further into the future, below replacement fertility is expected in 184 countries by the end of the century, with the global fertility rate falling below two births per woman (Figure 1).

It is certainly difficult to imagine rapid transitions to low fertility in today’s high-fertility countries, such as Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where average rates are more than six births per woman. However, rapid transitions from high to low fertility levels have happened in diverse social, economic and political settings.

With social and economic development, including those forces favouring low fertility, and the changing lifestyles of women and men, the transition to below replacement fertility in nearly all the remaining countries with high birth rates may well occur in the coming decades of the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In the Shadow of Glacial Lakes, Pakistan’s Mountain Communities Look to Climate Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-the-shadow-of-glacial-lakes-pakistans-mountain-communities-look-to-climate-adaptation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-the-shadow-of-glacial-lakes-pakistans-mountain-communities-look-to-climate-adaptation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-the-shadow-of-glacial-lakes-pakistans-mountain-communities-look-to-climate-adaptation/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 05:13:20 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138642 A boy grazes his cattle on farmland close to the site of a landslide in northern Pakistan’s Bagrot valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

A boy grazes his cattle on farmland close to the site of a landslide in northern Pakistan’s Bagrot valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
BINDO GOL, Pakistan, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Khaliq-ul-Zaman, a farmer from the remote Bindo Gol valley in northern Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has long lived under the shadow of disaster.

With plenty of fertile land and fresh water, this scenic mountain valley would be an ideal dwelling place – if not for the constant threat of the surrounding glacial lakes bursting their ridges and gushing down the hillside, leaving a trail of destruction behind.

“We can safely say that over 16,000 have been displaced due to [glacial lake outburst floods], and remain so even after several months.” -- Khalil Ahmed, national programme manager of a climate mitigation project in northern Pakistan
There was a time when families like Zaman’s lived in these distant valleys undisturbed, but hotter temperatures and heavier rains, which experts say are the result of global warming, have turned areas like Bindo Gol into a soup of natural hazards.

Landslides, floods and soil erosion have become increasingly frequent, disrupting channels that carry fresh water from upstream springs into farmlands, and depriving communities of their only source of fresh water.

“Things were becoming very difficult for my family,” Zaman told IPS. “I began to think that farming was no longer viable, and was considering abandoning it and migrating to nearby Chitral [a town about 60 km away] in search of labour.”

He was not alone in his desperation. Azam Mir, an elderly wheat farmer from the Drongagh village in Bindo Gol, recalled a devastating landslide in 2008 that wiped out two of the most ancient water channels in the area, forcing scores of farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate to nearby villages.

“Those who could not migrate out of the village suffered from water-borne diseases and hunger,” he told IPS.

Now, thanks to a public-private sector climate adaptation partnership aimed at reducing the risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), residents of the northern valleys are gradually regaining their livelihoods and their hopes for a future in the mountains.

Bursting at the seams

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), there were some 2,400 potentially hazardous glacial lakes in the country’s remotest mountain valleys in 2010, a number that has now increased to over 3,000.

Chitral district alone is home to 549 glaciers, of which 132 have been declared ‘dangerous’.

Climatologists say that rising temperatures are threatening the delicate ecosystem here, and unless mitigation measures are taken immediately, the lives and livelihoods of millions will continue to be at risk.

One of the most successful initiatives underway is a four-year, 7.6-million-dollar project backed by the U.N. Adaptation Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Pakistan.

Signed into existence in 2010, its main focus, according to Field Manager Hamid Ahmed Mir, has been protection of lives, livelihoods, existing water channels and the construction of flood control infrastructure including check dams, erosion control structures and gabion walls.

Labourers construct flood-control gabion walls - structures constructed by filling large galvanized steel baskets with rock – in northern Pakistan’s remote Bindo Gol valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Labourers construct flood-control gabion walls – structures constructed by filling large galvanized steel baskets with rock – in northern Pakistan’s remote Bindo Gol valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

The project has brought tremendous improvements to people here, helping to reduce damage to streams and allowing the sustained flow of water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation purposes in over 12 villages.

“We plan to extend such infrastructure in another 10 villages of the valley, where hundreds of households will benefit from the initiative,” Mir told IPS.

Further afield, in the Bagrot valley of Gilgit, a district in Gilgit-Baltistan province that borders KP, NGOs are rolling out similar programmes.

Zahid Hussain, field officer for the climate adaptation project in Bagrot, told IPS that 16,000 of the valley’s residents are vulnerable to GLOF and flash floods, while existing sanitation and irrigation infrastructure has suffered severe damage over the last years due to inclement weather.

Located some 800 km from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, Bagrot is comprised of 10 scattered villages, whose population depends for almost all its needs on streams that bubble forth from the Karakoram Mountains, a sub-range of the Hindu Kush Himalayas and the world’s most heavily glaciated area outside of the Polar Regions.

Residents like Sajid Ali, also a farmer, are pinning all their hopes on infrastructure development that will preserve this vital resource, and protect his community against the onslaught of floods.

An even bigger concern, he told IPS, is the spread of water-borne diseases as floods and landslides leave behind large silt deposits upstream.

Preparing for the worst

Just as risk reduction structures are key to preventing humanitarian crises, so too is building community resilience and awareness among the local population, experts say.

So far, some two million people in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have benefitted from community mitigation schemes, not only from improved access to clean water, but also from monitoring stations, site maps and communications systems capable of alerting residents to a coming catastrophe.

Khalil Ahmed, national programme manager for the project, told IPS that early warning systems are now in place to inform communities well in advance of outbursts or flooding, giving families plenty of time to evacuate to safer grounds.

While little official data exists on the precise number of people affected by glacial lake outbursts, Ahmed says, “We can safely say that over 16,000 have been displaced, and remain so even after several months.”

Over the past 17 months alone, Pakistan has experienced seven glacial lake outbursts that not only displaced people, but also wiped out standing crops and ruined irrigation and water networks all throughout the north, according to Ghulam Rasul, a senior climatologist with the PMD in Islamabad.

The situation is only set to worsen, as temperatures rise in the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan and scientists predict more extreme weather in the coming decades, prompting an urgent need for greater preparedness at all levels of society.

Several community-based adaptation initiatives including the construction of over 15 ‘safe havens’ – temporary shelter areas – in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have already inspired confidence among the local population, while widespread vegetation plantation on the mountain slopes act as a further buffer against landslides and erosion.

Scientists and activists say that replicating similar schemes across the northern regions will prevent unnecessary loss of life and save the government millions of dollars in damages.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Anemia in Eastern Cuba Reflects Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:40:20 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138646 Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

By Ivet González
BAYAMO, Cuba, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has met the United Nations goal of reducing hunger. But anemia caused by malnutrition is still a problem among infants, small children and pregnant women in this Caribbean island nation, which has been in the grip of an economic crisis for over two decades.

“Meat is the hardest thing to get,” said Gladys Pavón from the city of Bayamo, 730 km east of Havana. “The fruit and vegetables that we buy for the children are also difficult to get. We buy milk at the store [through the ration card system],” the 32-year-old mother of two small boys told IPS.

Pavón, a computer technician, is introducing new foods into the diet of nine-month-old Irving. “My little one is now eating fruit, tubers, pasta and all kinds of meat. I try to give him a balanced diet, like I do with two-year-old Javier Alejandro,” she said.

“My kids have never suffered from anemia,” the young mother said proudly, holding the chunky Irving, who is free of an ailment that still affects vulnerable parts of the population in the east – Cuba’s poorest region – despite the National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia and constant support from the international community to eradicate the problem.

“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma [whose capital is Bayamo], as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba,” Dr. Margarita Cruz, who heads the local Food and Nutrition Monitoring System, told IPS.

“The main cause is iron deficiency in the diet,” Cruz said. “Children and pregnant women don’t consume the iron their bodies need.”

“There are problems with availability of and access to an adequate diet, but there are also bad nutritional habits, including a taste for junk food, which has begun to have a negative impact,” she said.

There are an estimated two billion people worldwide with micronutrient deficiencies, which undermine a healthy, productive life, according to the first ever Global Nutrition Report, published in November 2014 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma, as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba.” -- Dr. Margarita Cruz

And under-nutrition kills nearly 1.5 million women and children a year around the world.

In Cuba, which has met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people who live in hunger, from 1990 levels, less than five percent of the population of 11.2 million is undernourished.

Every inhabitant receives a set quota of food purchased at subsidised prices through the “libreta” or ration book. The system is widely criticised, but it is essential for lower-income segments of the population. And pregnant women and children up to the age of 13 receive a special diet with extra supplies of meat, fortified milk, fruit compote and yoghurt.

But to put food on the table all month long, families have no choice but to pay the high prices charged for food in the farmers’ markets, state-run stores that only accept hard currency, and the black market, which survives despite police raids and prison sentences of up to three years for contraband.

Statistics from the state-run Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy show that food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget, in a country where the state, by far the largest employer, pays an average salary of 19 dollars a month.

Eastern Cuba, which includes five provinces – Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo – has the worst development indicators in the country.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, many more people leave the eastern provinces than arrive. In the remaining 10 provinces, more than 75 percent of outsiders have traditionally been from the east.

Although anemia is still a health problem, the situation has improved in recent years.

A study carried out in eastern Cuba from 2005 to 2011 found that the prevalence of anemia among children under five fell from 31.8 to 26 percent. The highest rates were found among babies and toddlers between six and 23 months of age, according to an article published in 2014 in the Cuban magazine MEDICC Review.

In Granma, which has 830,600 inhabitants, the prevalence of anemia among children under five has dropped below 25 percent and among pregnant women to under 20 percent, said Cruz, one of the authors of the article in MEDICC Review.

“An effort has been made, which is why we have seen results,” she said. “People are eating more vegetables and have learned how to combine certain foods to maximise the nutrients.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) financed two major projects, consecutively, from 2002 to 2014 in the five eastern provinces, in support of the Public Health Ministry’s National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia.

The projects, carried out in conjunction with local institutions, included communicational and educational strategies targeting families; the setting up of anemia monitoring systems in the public health sector; the free distribution of cereals fortified with micronutrients; and measures to boost local production of the cereals.

Cuba and the WFP launched a new programme this month. It will run through 2018, and puts a priority on nutritional monitoring and aid for agriculture in Cuba, in line with the Raúl Castro government’s emphasis on agriculture and empowerment at a local level to reduce the country’s food imports, which total two billion dollars a year.

Using rice grown in Cuba, the state-run Dairy Products Company of Bayamo began this month to produce fortified rice, Nutriarroz. Rice is the most widely consumed cereal in this country.

“The product has been accepted well in the trials that have been carried out,” said Rauel Medina, director of the factory.

The company, the largest of its kind in the country, is to deliver 1,200 tons a year for free distribution among small children and pregnant women in the eastern provinces that still have a high prevalence of anemia, as part of the cooperation between the WFP and Cuba.

“This problem must be detected among women of childbearing age,” said Dr. Mariela Velis, head of the Maternal and Child Health Programme in Granma. “An anemic mother can have a child with the same problem, and a cycle is created.”

For that reason, hemoglobin screening for anemia is carried out among women in the province, starting in adolescence, she explained.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: For the Good of Humanity – Towards a Culture of Caringhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 12:46:56 +0000 Andrew MacMillan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138580

In this column, Andrew MacMillan, former director of the Field Operations Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joint author with Ignacio Trueba of ‘How to End Hunger in Times of Crises’, argues that behind the so-called success of globalisation lie problems that are “taken for granted” and little thought is given to how it can be better managed to serve the interests of people.

By Andrew MacMillan
ROME, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

About a week ago my wife was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. She was promptly treated with antibiotics and, wonderfully, is now on the mend.

What has struck me about this experience is not so much the high professionalism of the health workers or their up-to-date hospital equipment but the fact that she has become immersed in what can best be described as “a culture of caring”.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

She and the other patients in her ward are looked after round the clock by an extraordinary team of state-employed nurses in a quiet, efficient and courteous way that inspires confidence.

I suppose that there is nothing particularly unusual about this. Caring for others is a very natural human trait. Everywhere, mothers care for their children; sons and daughters care for their aging parents; and neighbours rush to help each other when they hit problems.

Perhaps, however, “modern” societies – if one dares to generalise about them – are driven more by the quest for individual material wealth than by any widely expressed wish to do things for the general good of humanity.

Unless you live in Bhutan, your country’s performance is measured not in terms of the happiness of its people but by the growth of its Gross Domestic Product; bankers and businessmen reward themselves with salary bonuses rather than with extra time with their families; and those who enjoy the highest pinnacles of wealth vie with each other over the size of their fleet of private jets or the tonnage of their personal yachts.

The idiosyncrasies of the super-rich and celebrities would not matter much if they had not become the new role models for people who aspire to “do well” in life and if their wealth did not entitle them to a voice in the corridors of world power. It seems odd that Presidents and Prime Ministers flock each year in January to [the World Economic Forum in] Davos to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but perhaps this is simply a tacit admission of the influence that the latter have.“I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice
even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being”

Much of the recent material gains all around the planet is the result of the processes of globalisation that have successfully combined inventiveness, capital, low-cost but increasingly skilled labour and cheap transportation in new ways that have flooded the world’s markets with an amazing array of tantalising goods.

This apparent success of globalisation, however, may distract political attention from the idea that it could perhaps work better in everyone’s interest.

It seems absurd that 6 billion mobile phones have been produced and sold but 800 million people still go hungry every day; that, as people travel further, faster and more frequently, diseases such as Ebola spread more rapidly and more widely but the institutions responsible for protecting us from increased threats remain desperately under-funded; and that governments hesitate to upset their voters by acting to trim greenhouse gas emissions while, as predicted, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is repeatedly wreaking havoc upon the unfortunate.

We tend to take these problems for granted rather than face up to the need to identify how to best manage globalisation in the interests of humanity.

I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being.

I do not think that there are many people who, if asked, would want to see others starve for lack of food, who welcome greater weather instability or who think that it is right that their children should suffer from the environmental damage that results from our unsustainable lifestyles.

In a sense, President Lula of Brazil put this idea to the test during his successful 2002 campaign. Breaking out of the normal political mould, he did not promise his voters higher incomes but simply pledged that all Brazilians would enjoy three meals a day by the end of his term in office.

He unveiled his Zero Hunger Programme on his first day as President, with the State assuming the responsibility for assuring that all the poorest families in the country could fulfil their right to food. There was huge outpouring of popular support for his efforts to create the more just and equitable society that has now emerged.

What many of us would like to see is the emergence of a new international consciousness of social justice similar to that proposed by Lula and embraced by Brazilians twelve years ago.

It must be founded on a growing public recognition of the unique role that multilateral institutions have to play in ensuring that globalisation is harnessed to benefit all people, especially the poorest of the poor. It must also assure greater inter-generational fairness in the use of our planet’s scarce resources.

Nowhere is the need for greater fairness more apparent than in the realm of food management – where we face a crazy situation in which, though ample food is produced, the health of more than half the world’s population is now damaged by bad nutrition.

It is fitting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, should have launched his personal “Zero Hunger Challenge” in Brazil in 2012 when he called for the elimination of hunger “within my lifetime”.

The fact that the current Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the United Nations agency that that oversees global food management – is José Graziano da Silva, who was the Brazilian architect of Lula’s Zero Hunger Programme, inspires confidence that it will do all in its power to bring about a world without hunger.

We can already see a renewed FAO in action – committed to ending hunger and malnutrition, more focused in its goals, working as one and embracing partnerships for a better present and future. Four more years will allow Graziano da Silva to consolidate the transformations he has begun and realise their full effect to the benefit of the world´s poor and hungry.

Hopefully 2015 will be a year in which the world’s leaders will become the champions of the justice and fairness – the caring society that my wife has experienced – to which so many of us aspire.

At the very least, they should pick up the thought that, as in Brazil, it should be a perfectly normal function of any self-respecting government to ensure that all its people can eat healthily.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Bhopal Cloud Hovers Over Industrial Safety in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/bhopal-cloud-hovers-over-industrial-safety-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bhopal-cloud-hovers-over-industrial-safety-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/bhopal-cloud-hovers-over-industrial-safety-in-india/#comments Sun, 11 Jan 2015 18:53:51 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138589 Children with congenital disorders linked to the Bhopal gas leak gather at a candlelight vigil. Credit: Chingari Trust

Children with congenital disorders linked to the Bhopal gas leak gather at a candlelight vigil. Credit: Chingari Trust

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 11 2015 (IPS)

Three decades after 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal on Dec. 3, 1984 – killing an estimated 4,000 almost instantly and maiming and blinding hundreds of thousands of others – the world’s worst industrial disaster remains a sharp lesson on the need for greater safety regulations in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Thirty years on, thousands of children in Bhopal, capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, as well as in adjoining regions, are still being born with twisted limbs and other physical and mental disabilities caused by their parents’ exposure to the gas.

"Even if we have not seen […] another horrific human tragedy like on the night of Dec. 3, 1984, the country continues to have many mini-Bhopals – industrial accidents, which take lives and throw up a huge challenge of hazardous waste contamination.” -- Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
The poisonous vapours, which leached far into the soil and groundwater over the years, are still killing those victims who are too poor to move elsewhere.

“No consolidated record exists to show how many people are still suffering. As a result, even after the government paid compensation – however little – to more than half a million victims, fresh claims are still pouring in,” the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a book published last month.

According to Amnesty International, about 350,000 kg of toxic waste still covers the Union Carbide factory site. In 2009, 25 years after the tragedy, CSE conducted an independent assessment and found high levels of contamination in the soil and groundwater at the Union Carbide factory site and its adjoining areas.

In 2013, the centre collaborated with experts from across the country to develop a five-year action plan aimed at remediation of soil and toxic waste inside the plant and decontamination of the groundwater in the nearby area.

Intriguingly, even as the disaster continues to spawn books, movies and debates on corporate liability and poor safety regulations in Indian industries, the country’s ability to tackle a similar fiasco is still seriously in question.

“Post-Bhopal, India improved its legislations for chemical industrial disasters and worker safety, but it is still an unfinished business,” Sunita Narain, director-general of CSE, said at the book’s launch.

“Even if we have not seen […] another horrific human tragedy like on the night of Dec. 3, 1984, the country continues to have many mini-Bhopals – industrial accidents, which take lives and throw up a huge challenge of hazardous waste contamination.”

Several experts who spoke with IPS said that while the government has displayed alacrity in setting up sundry committees to assess the damage and recommend safeguards, mishaps continue to wreak havoc in the country’s mines and factories.

The problem is compounded by a lax regulatory environment, and entrenched corruption. As a result, predict economists, exponential growth in Asia’s third largest economy, home to over 1.2 billion people, will continue to come at a significant cost to the environment and human safety.

This is ironic as corporate law experts emphasize that India has one of the most complex and comprehensive laws on industrial safety.

For instance, safety audits are now mandatory in all factories storing hazardous chemicals over a certain threshold.

The Factories Act appoints site appraisal committees to advise on the location of factories using hazardous processes and suggests emergency disaster control plans for workers and local residents.

The Chemical Accidents Rules 1996 was introduced to ensure better safety standards while the Factories Act was remodelled to appoint an “occupier”, from the company’s top management, who would be totally responsible for a mishap, according to risk management consultant B. Karthikeyan

“However, the most significant piece of legislation to be introduced in the aftermath of Bhopal was the Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1986, which empowers the [Central government] to issue direct orders to close, prohibit or regulate any violating industry,” explains Gita Sareen, a Mumbai-based corporate lawyer.

“The umbrella legislation also implements the mandate of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment to protect and improve the human environment and prevent hazards to human beings and other living creatures,” she told IPS.

But the gap between promises and practices is huge. Health facilities at most factories are still not up to scratch and violators are rarely punished. According to CSE’s records, in 2011 over 1,000 people lost their lives in factory accidents across India and several thousand were injured.

Contamination of land and water is also a growing problem. In 2010, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests identified 10 toxic sites housing thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste.

“The worst part is that despite so much brouhaha, the site of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal has still not been cleared of the toxic waste. Various parties are squabbling over how to clean the site, what should be done with the waste and who should pay for it even as the pollution continues to wreak havoc and engulf more areas,” Chandra Bhushan, deputy director at CSE, told IPS.

And while safety consciousness and compliance have improved somewhat in the organised sector involving large corporations due to their corporate image, the unorganised sector is still messy.

“Fire in cracker factories [and] repeated mishaps in acid factories are rampant [and] point to the need for greater surveillance in this sector,” he added. “The crux of the problem is that ‘safety’ still hasn’t become a culture in India unlike the West.”

According to Dr. Shashank Shekhar, a professor with the department of geology at Delhi University, industries continue to pollute, their rampant discharge of industrial effluents being the single biggest reason for water contamination and ill-health of millions of people in India.

In a study he co-authored, Shekhar points out how groundwater across the country is contaminated with cancer-inducing lead, and cadmium, as well as other hazardous materials such as arsenic, nitrate, manganese and iron.

“Heavy metals even in small quantities dissolved in water are highly toxic for a human body and can cause irreparable damage,” the scholar told IPS. “Yet the problem remains unchecked.”

Another problem, point out legal experts, is that in India, the processes for environmental impact assessments (EIA) are flawed.

“The country needs a thorough overhaul of these processes to ensure that there’s objectivity and due diligence involved in the exercise. Currently, industries hire independent assessors for EIA and pay for it from their own pocket. Naturally, the supervisor who is getting paid by the company for the audit will tend to favour his employer and not be impartial in his report,” explains Shekhar.

Rather than adding to the avalanche of existing laws, what will be more effective, say experts, is to have stricter execution of regulations.

Social audits by local citizens’ groups around polluting factories and a transparent remediation process involving stakeholders like the local affected community will produce far better results, suggests Bhushan.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Child Sex Crimes: Uruguay’s Ugly Hidden Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/child-sex-crimes-uruguays-ugly-hidden-face/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 15:38:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138522 A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

A poster from the No Excuses campaign, organised by Conapees, el Instituto del Niño y Adolescente del Uruguay and Unicef. Photo courtesy of Conapees

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

Karina Núñez Rodríguez was only 12 when she was forced into prostitution. Now age 50 and a mother of six, she is an outspoken fighter against sexual exploitation of children and teenagers in Uruguay, a country reluctant to recognise this growing scourge.

Her mother’s surname, Rodríguez, “has everything to do with what I am,” she says, explaining that her grandmother was also an exploited child. Karina proudly says she broke this family burden when her youngest daughter turned 12 as a smiling girl ready to go to high school.“There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime." -- Karina Núñez Rodríguez

It was an assurance that her own children have a bright future, even though Karina still makes a living selling her body.

In Uruguay, a countless number of children, mostly girls, have their childhoods stolen, to be sold for a pack of cigarettes, a cell phone card, food, clothes, shelter or plain cash. Some are exploited by their own relatives, others by by neighbours or organised criminal networks.

One grocer threw dance parties in her shop on the paydays of local rural workers and lured the men with 12 year-old-girls from the neighbourhood. The girls would spend the night drinking alcohol and having sexual relations with adults on the premises of a nearby chapel.

A 74-year-old owner of a hotel in a beach resort paid for the travel of a 15-year-old girl, who lives hundreds of kilometres away, to have sex. Afterwards, despite sending money to her pimps, the man avoided punishment by claiming he didn’t know she was underage.

A provincial high-ranking public official organised a party with teenagers, alcohol and cocaine in a government facility, and was caught drunk while driving away with one of the girls.

And a network of lorry drivers and the fathers of two victims forced girls into sexual encounters with drivers in three different towns.

These types of cases hit the news almost twice a week. Authorities established Dec. 7 as the national day against sexual exploitation of children. But they still have no accurate statistics on this crime, punishable by up to 12 years in prison under a 2004 law. Adult prostitution is legal and state-regulated.

There are as many as 1.8 million children exploited in prostitution or pornography worldwide, according to Ecpat. Nearly 80 per cent of trafficking is for sexual exploitation and over 20 percent of the victims are children.

From 2010 to September this year, the judiciary heard 79 cases involving 127 defendants. Only 43 were convicted, according to a report published by the judicial branch.

But police reports are increasing. In 2007, there were just 20. In 2011, the number jumped to 40, in 2013 there were 70, and last year there were more than 80.

“Each case is not just one boy or girl. It can involve four or five,” says Luis Purtscher, president of the National Committee for the Eradication of Commercial and non-Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Teenagers (Conapees). Perpetrators outnumber victims. “In a single night, a girl can have five or 10 sexual partners,” he says.

“Being a problem whose underlying causes are the power of capitalism to seize territories and the male workforce migrations, we could hypothesise that when both the economy and the mobility grow, child sex crimes also rise in places colonised by investors,” says Purtscher.

In the last five years, Conapees has trained 1,500 public servants, including teachers, social workers, police officers and prosecutors. “We have 3,000 extra ears and eyes skilled somehow to detect and report,” he adds.

Gender violence plays a role. On a list of 12 Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal, Uruguay has the highest rate of killings of women by a former or current partner, states a recently released report by the regional Gender Equality Observatory.

To graphically illustrate the depth of the problem, Conapees published an advert in the press: ‘Very young girls’, followed by a phone number. It received 100 calls the first day and 500 the first weekend.

Karina became an activist after witnessing the suffering of girls subjected to “breaking-down practices” in brothel-bars: torture, forced and collective penetrations and beatings, “aimed to create such a bond of fear between the victim and her exploiter that she can stand night after night in a corner in Europe without even thinking to go to the police.”

Her record includes 27 crime reports to authorities. “I was instrumental in nine indictments, and I’m honoured by people who trust me and give me more evidence.” She checks the facts and relies on a network of eight friends in different cities. “Thank God we have WhatsApp,” she says with a smile.

In 2007, she and other colleagues created Grupo Visión Nocturna (Night vision group) to promote an independent stance on health-related issues and demand respect for sex workers.

Shortly after reporting to a small city’s police station that three girls were about to be trafficked in 2009, a supposed client picked her up. They travelled 20 kilometres away from town. “There were nine guys who gave me a beating. I was 11 days in an intensive-care unit and three months unable to walk. Once I could, I returned to report the same crime,” she recalls. Karina has been threatened and fears she could be killed at any time.

Making public accusations is dangerous, yet the crime and the victims are not hidden. Belgian photographer Susette Kok visited many sites in an exhibition and book and portrayed 27 adults –24 women, two transgender women and a young man— who were child victims and now, invariably, are sex workers.

“I found the exploitation easily. It is all over the place,” says Kok, who was assisted by Karina’s knowledge and web of contacts.

The “little house of love”, a group of dilapidated and unroofed walls, the floor covered with used condoms, is just next door to a church in Fray Bentos, in the southwest of Uruguay. An oxidized “container of passions” – situated in a sports field and, again, next to a church at the entrance of the western city of Young— has the door open when it is vacant.

Dozens of places like it are scattered through the area: a bench in a communal football field, a huge tree by a bridge, ironically known as “ecological sex”, shacks, clubs and “waitress bars”.

In west Montevideo, bus stations, parks, canteens and even private houses are sites of child sex offences, according to the survey “An open secret”, authored by Purtscher and other seven experts who interviewed more than 50 sources.

The area is attracting major investment and a predominantly male workforce, which could worsen the situation, but it does not have mechanisms to assist the victims. Nor does the country as a whole. A governmental programme established in 2013 is underfunded and counts just two teams.

This slow official response exasperates Karina. “When a child is exploited,” she says, “we cannot wait.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Children Starving to Death in Pakistan’s Drought-Struck Tharparkar Districthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/children-starving-to-death-in-pakistans-drought-struck-tharparkar-district/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-starving-to-death-in-pakistans-drought-struck-tharparkar-district http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/children-starving-to-death-in-pakistans-drought-struck-tharparkar-district/#comments Sat, 03 Jan 2015 17:17:09 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138482 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/children-starving-to-death-in-pakistans-drought-struck-tharparkar-district/feed/ 1 Argentina Celebrates New Year Free of Trans Fatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/argentina-celebrates-new-year-free-of-trans-fats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-celebrates-new-year-free-of-trans-fats http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/argentina-celebrates-new-year-free-of-trans-fats/#comments Sat, 03 Jan 2015 11:18:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138479 Medialunas with coffee and milk, a classic breakfast in Argentina, in a typical Buenos Aires café. From now on, these small croissants will have to be free of trans fats. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Medialunas with coffee and milk, a classic breakfast in Argentina, in a typical Buenos Aires café. From now on, these small croissants will have to be free of trans fats. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 3 2015 (IPS)

After adopting a new law banning trans fats in industrially processed foods, Argentina is starting out the new year with an improved public health outlook. The challenge now is for the food industry to incorporate the new rules, in an adaptation process that started four years ago.

“This is an important step for making progress in the prevention of cerebrovascular and cardiac diseases because it has been proven that these fats are harmful to health, as they increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce the good kind (HDL),” Lorena Allemandi, director of the healthy food policies area in the Argentine branch of the InterAmerican Heart Foundation (IAHF), told IPS.

The law, in effect since Dec. 10 as part of the Food Code, limits trans fatty acids in processed foods to two percent of the total in the case of vegetable oils and margarines for direct consumption and five percent in other foods.

Based on various studies, the Health Ministry predicts that with this measure alone, Argentina could reduce the rate of coronary disease by six percent in just four or five years.

Policies to tackle modern-day health problems

The elimination of trans fats from processed foods in Argentina joins other public policies aimed at reducing the consumption of salt and smoking, as well as increasing physical activity.

“Today we are fatter and more sedentary than our grandparents,” said Sebastián Laspiur. “There have been multidimensional changes. They ate fewer processed foods, and more homemade food; life was different. There was more time to cook, and people moved around more. There have been profound social and cultural changes,” he said, referring to modern-day risk factors.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), consuming just five grams a day of trans fatty acids increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 25 percent.

In 2008, the Trans-Fat-Free Americas initiative was launched in Rio de Janeiro, aimed at replacing trans fatty acids in food production. A number of important companies have adhered to the effort.

That could save 1,500 lives and prevent some 2,800 heart attacks and over 5,000 coronary events a year, said Sebastián Laspiur, the Health Ministry’s director of health promotion and control of non-transmissible diseases.

It would also save the national health system an estimated 100 million dollars, in cardiovascular complications and treatment, he added in an interview with IPS.

He said that even more importantly, it would boost social inclusion by benefiting in particular “the most vulnerable sectors, who tend to consume foods with more trans fats, because they are cheaper and sometimes they have less access to other kinds of food.”

Trans fatty acids are created during the process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils, which solidifies liquid oils to prevent them from becoming rancid and to keep them solid at room temperature. They are used mainly in industrially processed foods.

“They were thought to be better [than fats of animal origin], but over the years studies were carried out, and by the late 1990s there was no doubt that they are bad for our health,” said Laspiur.

Argentina has joined Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland in virtually banning trans fats, and has become the first country in the developing South to do so. Chile is set to follow suit, in 2016.

In Argentina the process began in December 2010, when the food industry was given two years to reduce trans fatty acids in vegetable oils and margarines and four years to reduce it in other foods. The deadline was Dec. 3, 2014.

But mandatory food labeling for trans fats was introduced in 2006.

Laspiur believes there will be no problem reaching full compliance with the new rules, thanks to the reduction period, the food industry’s “broad cooperation,” and oversight by the authorities.

A 2013 study by the IAHF of 878 products from the main brands sold in supermarkets found that 42 were still over the limit, including granola bars, frosting, “alfajors” – traditional shortbread cookies with a dulce de leche filling – and other bakery products.

Trans fats were widely incorporated in processed foods because they cut costs, help preserve food, extend the shelf life, and keep frosting from melting, Allamandi said.

Enforcing the new rules among small and medium companies will be a challenge, she added.

“Vulnerable sectors are hit harder by risk factors, and this kind of policy is along those lines,” said Allamandi. “The challenge will be small and medium size companies because many of them are outside the big cities or are frequented by more vulnerable sectors because they have lower prices. It’s important for these companies to respect the new rules.”

Another challenge will be enforcing the new rules in small bakeries or microenterprises that make baked goods like medialunas, as croissants are known in Argentina.

Laspiur acknowledged that oversight and enforcement is more difficult among small-scale businesses. But he also said there would be “indirect” compliance with the new law.

“Small-scale businesses like bakeries make their products using margarine and frosting that they buy from larger companies, which won’t be allowed to use margarines with trans fats…that means they will not use these ingredients because their suppliers will have already eliminated them.”

The high-level official also said the baking industry association is already cooperating with other health policies, such as the reduction of salt in their products in order to help decrease the risk of hypertension.

He also said fast food chains, which use ingredients from outside suppliers of baked goods and sweets, would cooperate.

Healthy alternatives to trans fatty acids depend on each product. Vegetable oils are recommended, or else saturated animal fats.

Public institutes are working to find low-cost alternatives to hydrogenated oil.

National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) researchers are working on two strategies in the Institute of Polymer and Nanotechnology.

The first involves the use of a new kind of high oleic-high stearic sunflower, which contains high levels of saturated fatty acids, and the second involves the production of protein-stabilised emulsion gels.

“The main advantage of the alternatives that we’re investigating is that they use raw materials that are abundant in our country,” the head of the group working on the projects, Lidia Herrera, told IPS. “From a health standpoint, the high oleic-high stearic sunflower’s main saturated fatty acid is stearic acid, which is considered neutral with respect to blood-cholesterol levels.

“The production of protein-stabilised gels makes it possible to obtain solid products using liquid fats that contain fatty acids essential to health; this way we wouldn’t be eating saturated or trans fatty acids,” she said.

The next step is to carry out pilot studies, before scaling up the effort to an industrial level.

“We don’t have cost analyses, but since the raw materials are available in Argentina, it will be simpler for our industries to get these products. At any rate, the processes involved do not require advanced technology, which means it should be comparable to importing palm oil,” Herrera added.

Many companies use interesterified fats which have been chemically or enzymatically altered by combining stearic acid with vegetable oils – in this case, imported palm oil – containing unsaturated fat. “Because we are a country that produces raw materials, it’s an advantage to be able to use our own ingredients,” Herrera added.

So people in Argentina can rest assured that they’ll keep eating their beloved medialunas. “If they’re free of trans fats, they won’t disappear,” Allemandi said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Years in the Making, Arms Trade Treaty Enters into Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/years-in-the-making-arms-trade-treaty-enters-into-force/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 14:14:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138402 A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

A soldier stands over the weapons seized from four suspected members of Al Shabaab, the Islamic insurgent group, in Mogadishu, Somalia. The militants, all in their mid-twenties, were captured during joint security operation by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security services and were found in possession of a rocket-propelled grenade, two sub-machine guns and 84 rounds of ammunition. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

A new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) beginning on Dec. 24 represents a historic moment in global efforts to keep weapons proliferation in check.

Nounou Booto Meeti, programme director at the Centre for Peace, Security and Armed Violence Prevention, told IPS that in her own home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the uncontrolled trade of arms has contributed to human rights violations including rape and the recruitment of child soldiers."We’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it." -- Allison Pytlak from Control Arms

Meeti has actively campaigned for a global ATT, including advocating for the inclusion of a gender-based violence criterion.

The criterion is especially important for countries like the DRC where rape and sexual slavery has been used to systematically terrorise village after village.

Meeti emphasised that women, men and children are all affected by gender-based violence. In the DRC, when a village is attacked the men are often killed so that the women who are alive will not be able to defend themselves, she explained.

The Arms Trade Treaty, if implemented properly, will require states selling weapons to not only consider if the weapons are going to a country where there are systematic violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, but also how likely it is that those weapons will end up there through diversion from another country.

Meeti urged all countries to do their best to put the ATT into practice “so that we can see the reduction of armed violence, the reduction of armed conflict and the end of gender-based violence.”

She said that it has taken a long time to get to this point because there are a lot of interests in the global arms trade, which is an industry that earns billions and billions of dollars primarily for a small group of arms producing countries.

She added that “the transparency within the ATT will influence the reduction of military expenses in favour of development.”

The proliferation of weapons in countries like the DRC and the free flow of weapons into the ‘wrong hands’ has been allowed to continue because of an almost complete lack of international regulation of the arms trade.

According to Amnesty International, there are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons.

Meeti said that they had shown that there was no management of government stockpiles of weapons in the DRC, making it easy for arms to be diverted to the wrong hands. Porous borders meant that weapons could easily be brought in from any of the nine countries that share borders with the DRC.

She said that non-state actors also had ready unregulated access to arms, funded by the DRC’s vast resource wealth and international actors with interests in exploiting those resources.

Allison Pytlak from Control Arms told IPS that the ATT is “about introducing responsibility into the arms trade, not about trying to stop the trade of arms.”

The treaty also asks “all parties involved, especially the arms dealers, to think twice about where their weapons are going,” Pytlak said.

She said that the ATT aims to fix problems like states receiving weapons after they had stopped acting responsibly.

“Syria is a good example, we’ve seen the Syrian government do horrendous things to their own civilians, and arms are continuing to go there, notably from Russia. That is a perfect modern case in point of what the ATT could stop if both of those countries were a part of it,” Pytlak said.

Pytlak also said that weapons often end up in the ‘wrong hands’ through diversion, corrupt officials and theft from insecure government stockpiles.

“A lot of guns start out on the legal market and then end up on the illegal market,” she noted.

“By having export licensing officials who have a second thought about, where are these weapons really going to go? It looks a little bit unstable there, or there’s a history of diversion there, if they start thinking twice about that, the source might dry up and diversion will cease,” she said.

Only the first step

The Arms Trade Treaty covers everything from small arms and light weapons to warships, including battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, missiles and missile launchers. The treaty also covers ammunition and parts and components.

Millions of new weapons and 12 billion bullets are produced each year, while over 800 million guns already exist in the world.

The entering into force of the ATT on Wednesday with 61 ratifications and 130 signatures is only a small, albeit notable, step in the right direction.

Two thousand people die from armed violence every day. Armed violence is also fuelling the global refugee crisis, with over 26 million people around the world displaced due to conflict.

Arms affected countries are predominantly also lower income countries, and may struggle to implement the treaty.

Pytlak says that one current option being explored is the possibility of using Official Development Assistance (aid) to help lower income countries with the costs of implementing the treaty.

A new report from Chatham House says that the indirect impact of the arms trade on development includes the diversion of funds from healthcare to defence, increased unemployment and decreased educational opportunities.

In a statement Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as historic.

“Ultimately, it attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations,” Ban said.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Falling Oil Prices Threaten Fragile African Economieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 22:35:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138388 Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

The sharp decline in world petroleum prices – hailed as a bonanza to millions of motorists in the United States – is threatening to undermine the fragile economies of several African countries dependent on oil for their sustained growth.

The most vulnerable in the world’s poorest continent include Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sudan – as well as developing nations such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt in North Africa."In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high." -- Dr. Shenggen Fan of IFPRI

Dr. Kwame Akonor, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, who has written extensively on the politics and economics of the continent, told IPS recent trends and developments such as the outbreak of Ebola and the fall of global oil prices “shows how tepid and volatile African economies are.”

In 2012, for instance, Sierra Leone and Liberia (two of the hardest hit countries with Ebola) were cited by the World Bank as the fastest growing sub-Saharan African countries, he pointed out.

In a similar vein, countries such as Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are considered top performing economies due to the large concentration of their oil and gas reserves.

“But the ramifications of any economic crisis will undoubtedly negatively impact the fortunes of these countries,” said Akonor, who is also director of the University’s Centre for African Studies and the African Development Institute, a New York-based think tank.

The world price for crude oil has declined from 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last week.

There are multiple reasons for the decline, including an increase in oil production, specifically in the United States; a fall in the global demand for oil due to a slow down of the world economy; and a positive fallout from conservation efforts.

As the New York Times pointed out: “We simply don’t burn as much energy as we did a few years ago to achieve the same amount of mileage, heat or manufacturing production.”

There are also geopolitical reasons for the continued decline in oil prices because Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest producers, has refused to take any action to stop the fall.

Despite the crisis, the Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi was quoted as saying, “Why should I cut production?”

This has led to the conspiracy theory it is working in collusion with the United States to undermine the oil-dependent economies of three major adversaries: Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the fall in prices is also affecting Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman.

But they are expected to overcome the crisis because of a collective estimated foreign exchange reserve amounting to over 1.5 trillion dollars.

The drop in oil prices, however, will have the most damaging effects on Africa which has been battling poverty, food shortages, HIV/AIDS, and more recently, the outbreak of Ebola.

The heaviest toll will be on Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa which depends on crude oil for about 80 percent of its revenues, according to the Wall Street Journal. The country’s currency, the naira, has declined about 15 percent since the beginning of the fall in oil prices.

Dr. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sees both a positive and negative side to the current oil crisis. He told IPS the recent decline in oil prices will help reduce food prices.

Since oil prices are highly co-related to food prices, high oil prices make agricultural production more expensive and thus cause food prices to increase, he added.

“Now that oil prices are on a downward trend, this is, by and large, good for global food security and nutrition,” he said.

Dr. Fan said poor producers and consumers in developing countries should be able to benefit from this – as long as their purchasing power increases.

However, he cautioned, oil exporting countries may lose government revenues from low oil prices.

Indeed, crude oil producing nations in Africa have felt the pinch of declining oil prices given the dependence of their economies on crude oil, he noted. In the short run, he said, poor people may suffer, if their governments reduce food subsidies.

“In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high.”

When oil prices are low, these governments should use reserves to ensure that poor people are protected through social safety net programmes, he added.

Dr. Akonor told IPS as impressive as the current and long-term economic projections for Africa might seem, it does not change the precarious and fragile nature of the continent’s economic foundations.

“The high debt overhang and the heavy reliance on raw materials (such as oil) and minerals for exports, makes African economies susceptible to shock and systemic risks,” he noted.

Moreover, he said, the underlying human capital formation, especially amongst the burgeoning unemployed youth population, lacks the requisite skills that could lead to real sustainable growth and transformation.

“What is needed then is the effective implementation of development strategies and policies that would lead to long-term structural transformation and durable human development,” he argued.

One way to achieve this is through closer regional cooperation, given the small size of domestic markets and poor continental infrastructure. Transformative and human needs development must, amongst other things, address Africa’s poor infrastructure, said Dr. Akonor.

According to the African Development Bank, the road access rate in Africa is only 34 percent, compared with 50 percent in other developing regions. Only 30 percent of Africans have access to electricity, compared to 70-90 percent in other developing countries.

“What makes Africa’s development challenges vexing is that there has not been a shortage of autonomous development-related ideas between African leaders and interested publics,” Dr. Akonor said.

One can argue that Africa has debated and produced too many blueprints and programmes for over half a century without any tangible results or follow through, he said.

“Thus the major obstacle to durable economic performance in Africa has not been the ambitious nature of the development targets, but rather the absence of political will by African governments and the lack of consistency, coordination, and coherence at the sub regional, regional and even global levels to implement structural change,” Dr. Akonor declared.

“Transformational development will require that Africa add value to, and diversify, its export commodities. Building a solid industrial base and infrastructural capacity are also necessary prerequisites toward autonomous structural change.”

Dr. Fan told IPS that on the broader issue of the factors that influence food prices, it is important to realise the right price of food is not easy to determine.

What is important is that the prices of food (including the natural resources that are used for food production) fully reflect their economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits in order to send the right signals to all actors along the food supply chain.

“If this causes food prices to increase, social safety nets should be provided to protect poor people in the short term and also to help them move on to more productive activities in the long term,” Dr. Fan said.

In so doing, their food security and nutrition is not compromised, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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