Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:29:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Opinion: Hungry for Change, Achieving Food Security and Nutrition for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-hungry-for-change-achieving-food-security-and-nutrition-for-all/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 22:53:10 +0000 Paloma Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141806

Paloma Durán is director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) at the United Nations Development Programme

By Paloma Duran
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

With the enthusiasm of the recent Financing for Development conference behind us, the central issues and many layers of what is at stake are now firmly in sight. In fact, a complex issue like hunger, which is a long standing development priority, remains an everyday battle for almost 795 million people worldwide.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

While this figure is 216 million less than in 1990-92, according to U.N. statistics, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines hunger as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment and is measured by the country average of how many calories each person has access to every day, as well as the prevalence of underweight children younger than five.

So where do we stand if food security and nutrition is destined to be a critical component of poverty eradication and sustainable development. In fact, the right to food is a basic human right and linked to the second goal of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) which includes a target to end hunger and achieve food security by 2030.

The United Nations Development Programme is engaged in promoting sustainable agricultural practices to improve the lives of millions of farmers through its Green Commodities Programme. According to the World Food Programme, the world needs a food system that will meet the needs of an additional 2.5 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050.

To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty will require an additional 267 billion dollars annually over the next 15 years. Given this looming prospect, a question that springs to mind is: how will this to be achieved?

Going forward, this goal requires more than words, it requires collective actions, including efforts to double global food production, reduce waste and experiment with food alternatives. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) mission, we are working to understand how best to tackle this multi-faceted issue.

With the realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve food security, the SDG Fund coordinates with a range of public and private stakeholders as well as U.N. Agencies to pilot innovative joint programmes in the field.

For example, the SDG Fund works to tackle food security and nutrition in Bolivia and El Salvador where rural residents are benefiting from our work to strengthen local farm production systems. In addition, we engage women and smallholder farmers as part of our cross-cutting efforts to build more integrated response to development challenges. We recognise that several factors must also play a critical role in achieving the hunger target, namely:

Improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, helps improve food security;

Inclusive economic growth leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction;

the expansion of social protection contributes directly to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition.

In the fight against hunger, we need to create food systems that offer better nutritional outcomes and ones that are fundamentally more sustainable – i.e. that require less land, less water and that are more resilient to climate change.

The challenges are almost as great as the growing population which will require 70 percent more food to meet the estimated change in demand and diets. Notwithstanding is if we continue to waste a third of what we produce, we have to reevaluate agriculture and food production in terms of the supply chain and try to improve the quality and nutritional aspects across the value chain.

Food security and nutrition must be everyone’s concern especially if we are to eradicate hunger and combat food insecurity across all its dimensions. Feeding the world’s growing population must therefore be a joint effort and unlikely to be achieved by governments and international organisations alone.

In the words of José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Birth Registrations Plummet in Wake of Ebola Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/birth-registrations-plummet-in-wake-of-ebola-epidemic/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:06:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141804 A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Liberia’s Ebola epidemic may have subsided but its after-effects are still being felt, with tens of thousands of infants going unregistered at birth, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF says.

Liberia had ranked second after Somalia among countries with the lowest levels of birth registration. But just before the Ebola outbreak, progress had been made in reversing this problem, which leaves children at risk of exploitation and raises hurdles to entering the school system.

In July 2010, a decentralised birth registration system was launched by the government, with support from UNICEF, PLAN Liberia, Crisis Management Initiative and other development partners.

In 2013, the births of 79,000 children were registered, representing about a quarter of all new births and a dramatic increase from the four percent in previous years.

But by 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease.

And just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015.

“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”

The neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone were also hit by the deadly virus, which weakened already fragile health systems. But in Sierra Leone, approximately 250,000 children were registered during a recent five-day birth registration and polio vaccination campaign.

UNICEF is now working to register nearly 70,000 Liberian children who weren’t registered during the outbreak.

The agency is supporting the revamp of the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year, with the aim of reaching all children not registered in 2014 and 2015.

“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child’s right just because of a lack of a registered identity,” says Yett. “We cannot, and should never let that happen.”

Altogether, more than 4,800 people died during Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, nearly half of all diagnosed cases. The country was still recovering from a devastating civil war that ended in 2003, and the virus proved especially deadly for health care workers.

According to the World Health Organization, they were 20-30 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public, given the number of patients they saw and treated.  More than 800 contracted Ebola, and more than 400 died, with the outcome of almost one quarter of the cases unknown – this in a country with just 50 doctors.

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse.”

Edited by Thalif Deen

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Uneven MDG Progress Must Inspire Resolve to Do Much Betterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-uneven-mdg-progress-must-inspire-resolve-to-do-much-better/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-uneven-mdg-progress-must-inspire-resolve-to-do-much-better http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-uneven-mdg-progress-must-inspire-resolve-to-do-much-better/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 22:06:17 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Michael T. Clark http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141789 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-uneven-mdg-progress-must-inspire-resolve-to-do-much-better/feed/ 0 Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

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

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

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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New Convention Will Help Protect Latin America’s Elderlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:39:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141625 Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

“Our rights are only partially respected; in some places we are given special attention, but in others it is quite the opposite. There is a lack of education and respect for people my age,” Hilda Téllez, a 70-year-old Mexican woman, told IPS.

A few hours earlier, a taxi driver had refused to carry her wheelchair, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Villa Olímpica, where Téllez lives. She said she suffers double discrimination: as an elderly person and as someone with a disability, since she suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body.

“When I got sick, they violated my rights, because I collapsed in the office due to the level of stress there,” she said. “I didn’t go back to work after that. But the doctors ruled that it wasn’t a work-related health problem,” said the divorced mother of three and grandmother of eight, who worked for over 15 years in Mexico’s public prosecutor’s office, until retiring in 2006.

Because of that, she now receives a pension of only 225 dollars a month, even though her salary when she retired was over 1,250 dollars.

Discrimination, abandonment or neglect by families, and lack of care, work opportunities and full access to social services are all problems faced by people over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Ageing should be a concern for states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated.” -- Sandra Huenchúan

To address this situation, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons was approved Jun. 15 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) members. It needs to be ratified by two countries to go into effect, and has already been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Convention is the first regional instrument for promoting, protecting and recognising the human rights of the elderly.

It creates a comprehensive system of care for older adults, a Conference of the Parties, and a committee of experts who will issue recommendations to states.

It also creates a channel for any individual, group or non-governmental organisation to file complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against an OAS member country for violating the Convention.

There are currently 71 million people over 60 in Latin America. And by 2040, the elderly will outnumber children, according to an international forum held in this capital on the human rights of older adults by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE).

Sandra Huenchúan, a CELADE expert on ageing, said the main challenges involve improving social security coverage, access to healthcare, and inclusion in the labour market, and carrying out studies on the rights of the elderly.

“There are often problems applying the legislation – a lack of institutional or jurisdictional guarantees that would make enforcement possible,” Huenchúan said.

She added that “there is an enormous range of areas where older adults are unprotected, despite the existence of standardised legal mechanisms. Society isn’t fully aware that older adults have rights.”

The still hands of América Herrera, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The still hands of América Herrera of Costa Rica, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The countries in Latin America that already have specific laws and regulations for the protection of the rights of older adults are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

María Isolina Dabove, an expert from Argentina, said “The region is facing multigenerational ageing, a complex phenomenon that emerged with the demographic changes of the second half of the 20th century and is fuelled by the rise in life expectancy, which makes it possible for several generations to coexist.”

Dabove, with the Argentine government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS that the Convention is “the first explicit acknowledgement” by the region of the specific problems of older adults.

“This is an instrument that will guarantee the enforcement of the rights of all older adults,” she said.

Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the region climbed from 51 to 75 years, and it is expected to rise to 81 by the mid-21st century, according to CELADE, the population division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

One illustration is what is happening in Argentina, where 14 million of the country’s roughly 40 million inhabitants are over 60, according to the 2012 National Survey on the Quality of Life of Older Adults, while one out of five people in Argentina will be over 65 by 2050.

In Mexico, with a population f 120 million, seven million people are over 65 – a number that is expected to soar to more than 30 million by 2050.

And in Brazil, the most populous country in the region, with 200 million people, the number of people over 60 is expected to increase from 10 million today to more than 16 million by 2025 and to 29 million by 2050, according to official statistics.

“The real, concrete impact of the new Inter-American Convention is that each one of the states must incorporate it into their domestic laws. The Convention should have the legal hierarchy that would make it possible to build a free and equal society for all ages,” said Dabove.

Téllez, who receives medical care in the Social Security and Services Institute of Workers of the State, said she would like special clinics so the care would be “faster and more efficient.” She also suggested that the clinics could employ older adults.

“The government could make things accessible, approve stricter laws, provide driver education, improve the treatment we receive, and apply heavy fines, to educate people,” the pensioner said.

The region could benefit from the so-called “demographic bonus” – a broad segment of young people of an age to study and work and contribute to economic growth – but that advantage can vanish without investment in the human development of this part of the population.

In the November 2014 report “The New Demographic Era in Latin America and the Caribbean: Time for Equality According to the Population Clock”, CELADE said the demographic bonus could be secured with investment in education and health, particularly for children, adolescents, young people and women.

“Ageing should be a concern for the states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated,” Huenchúan said.

That concern, she added, “should not only translate into caring for older adults, but in making sure they have better conditions to exercise their rights.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Has Beaten Down, but not Beaten, HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 22:57:26 +0000 Alvaro Queiruga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141588 A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

By Álvaro Queiruga
MONTEVIDEO , Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America have partially met the Millennium Development Goal referring to the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the UNAIDS report on the global epidemic released Tuesday.

“The world has achieved the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6. The epidemic has been halted and reversed,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface to the report “How AIDS changed everything —“MDG6: 15 years, 15 lessons of hope from the AIDS response”.

Among the advances mentioned by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) report was the fact that 47 percent of people over 15 and 54 percent of children under 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2014 – one of the highest levels of coverage in the world.

The global average is 41 percent for adults and 32 percent for children.“In 2000, AIDS was a death sentence. People who became infected with HIV had just a few years to live….Today, the life expectancy of a person living with HIV who is receiving treatment is the same as that of a person who is not infected with HIV. That is success.” -- UNAIDS report

In some Latin American countries coverage is higher, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, the five countries that account for over 75 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the region. But in others it is much lower, like Bolivia, where antiretroviral coverage stands at less than 25 percent.

As an example to be followed, the report cites a major regional accomplishment: on Jun. 30 Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are set to become the next countries in the region to receive validation, possibly before June 2016, the regional director of UNAIDS for Latin America, César Núñez, said in an interview with IPS from Panama City.

The three pillars of the struggle

The experts, activists and HIV-positive persons consulted by IPS agreed that any effective struggle against the epidemic must be based on three pillars: prevention through early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS, universal access to antiretroviral therapy, and the reduction of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, which limits access to detection and treatment.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 70 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in Latin America have been diagnosed and 47 percent of the patients have begun antiretroviral therapy. Of those in treatment, the virus has been suppressed among 66 percent – in other words, 28 percent of all HIV-positive people in the region.

HIV prevalence in the region stands at 0.4 percent of the population – compared to 0.8 percent globally. But it rises to 25 or 30 percent among trans women involved in sex work, over 10 percent among gays and other men who have sex with men, and six percent among female sex workers.

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear does.” Credit: Chilean government

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear of the test does.” Credit: Chilean government

“HIV is concentrated in sexual diversity communities…who even find it very hard just to have an AIDS test in a health centre when, in the best of cases, they face stigma or discrimination on the streets or in the health centre itself, and in the worst of cases, they face the threat of physical violence,” Núñez said.

Between January 2013 and March 2014 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights received 770 reports of violence (594 murders and 176 serious assaults) motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or identity or gender expression.

UNAIDS figures

In Latin America the epidemic is concentrated in certain population groups, as well as in cities and ports, and along trade routes.

AIDS-related deaths in the region dropped 29 percent between 2005 and 2014, when the death toll was 41,000.

In 2014 there were 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, including 33,000 children. Of that total, 65 percent, or 1.1 million people, were men. The main route of transmission is sexual contact.

Over 75 percent of the 87,000 new HIV infections in the region in 2014 occurred, in descending order, in Brazil (which accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total), Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Fewer than 2000 children acquired HIV in 2014 in Latin America. High coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission has helped drive reductions in new infections among children, with 79 percent of the region’s 20,000 pregnant women living with HIV receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2014.

The Court recommended that states document such cases in order to develop policies for protecting the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) population.

“Laws on gender identity, gay marriage, anti-discrimination…are clear examples of legislation that…contribute to reducing discrimination and make it possible for the most affected populations to have access to health systems,” Carlos Falistocco, president of the Horizontal Technical Cooperation Group in Latin America and the Caribbean, which brings together the heads of AIDS programmes in the region, told IPS.

Núñez acknowledged that the region “managed to curb the spread of HIV, but we fell short of reversing the epidemic,” one of the targets of the sixth MDG, which like the other seven are to be met this year, when they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is still a long way to go, as reflected by the number of new HIV infections. Although they were reduced 13 percent from 2000 to 2014, in the last five years there has been little change in the annual number of new cases in the region.

Núñez said “there has been a kind of relaxation in the response. In some cases I think there’s a perception that this isn’t a problem anymore in Latin America, which has not enabled us to channel additional resources or put a higher priority on diagnosing and treating HIV.”

María José Fraga, a representative of the Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Uruguay, concurs.

“Because HIV has become a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension, social concern has died down,” she told IPS. “Today the epidemic is practically not discussed, because it’s not present. And for that reason we keep running into late diagnoses. There is no individual awareness of taking the test, or going to the doctor and asking for it.”

Fraga, 44, has been living with HIV for 24 years. When she was diagnosed in 1990, “there was practically no treatment,” she recalled.

“But that changed astoundingly fast, because by 1995 or 1996 there was already a wide variety of drugs…Back then they waited longer to start treatment. And the guidelines for treatment have gradually changed as more is understood about the disease and how it evolves in people,” she said.

Juan José Meré, a U.N. population fund (UNFPA) HIV/AIDS adviser, told IPS that in the case of Uruguay, “in nearly 40 percent of cases, full-blown AIDS is present by the time they are diagnosed. This can obviously be reverted, and in general it is, but at a high cost to their health.”

According to UNAIDS, in at least half of the countries in the region, 38 percent of people living with HIV had, when they were first tested, full-blown AIDS, which is defined by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic mm of blood. (CD4 cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell; they are an important part of the immune system.)

WHO and UNAIDS recommend that antiretroviral treatment start when a person’s CD4 cell count falls to 500, when they are still asymptomatic.

“Some countries, like Brazil and Argentina, offer treatment to any diagnosed patient, regardless of the CD4 level,” said Falistocco.

What direction should Latin America take in the future?

“We must base whatever we do on that great message from Secretary General Ban…we can’t leave anyone behind. In the region we can make great progress, especially if we guarantee access to services for the sexual diversity community across the entire continent,” said Núñez.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliverieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141566 This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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New Malaria Strategy Would Double Current Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-malaria-strategy-would-double-current-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-malaria-strategy-would-double-current-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-malaria-strategy-would-double-current-funding/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 19:56:55 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141559 Malaria has dreadful health consequences for HIV positive pregnant women and their babies. Sleeping under a net and taking antimalarial pills help HIV positive pregnant women have healthier babies. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Malaria has dreadful health consequences for HIV positive pregnant women and their babies. Sleeping under a net and taking antimalarial pills help HIV positive pregnant women have healthier babies. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS/ADDIS ABABA, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

Although malaria is both preventable and curable, it still killed an estimated 584,000 people in 2013, the majority of them African children.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mortality rates have fallen by 47 percent globally since 2000. But in Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.

The economic toll is also high: each year, malaria costs the African continent alone an estimated 12 billion dollars in lost productivity, and in some high-burden countries, it can account for as much as 40 percent of public health spending.

As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) kicked off Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaders presented a new strategic vision for malaria elimination that calls for doubling current financing by 2020.

“The new 2030 malaria goals – and the 2020 and 2025 milestones laid out in the WHO and RBM [Roll Back Malaria Partnership] strategies – are ambitious but achievable,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme.

“We must accelerate progress toward malaria elimination to ensure that neither parasite resistance to drugs, mosquito resistance to insecticides, nor malaria resurgence unravels the tremendous gains to date. We can and must achieve even greater impact to protect the investment the global community has made.”

The result of worldwide expert consultation with regions, countries and affected communities, the strategy aims to reduce global malaria case incidence and deaths by 90 percent – compared to 2015 – and eliminate the disease in an additional 35 countries.

Experts at the RBM say that just over 100 billion dollars is needed to eliminate malaria by 2030, with an additional 10 billion to fund research and development of new tools, including new drugs and insecticides.

To achieve the first milestone of reducing malaria incidence and mortality rates by 40 percent, annual malaria investments will need to rise to 6.4 billion dollars by 2020.

“Reaching our 2030 global malaria goals will not only save millions of lives, it will reduce poverty and create healthier, more equitable societies,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Ensuring the continued reduction and elimination of malaria will generate benefits for entire communities, businesses, agriculture, health systems and households.”

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called “malaria vectors”, which bite mainly between dusk and dawn.

Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria.

“Investing to achieve the new 2030 malaria goals will avert nearly three billion malaria cases and save over 10 million lives. If we are able to reach these targets, the world stands to generate 4 trillion dollars of additional economic output across the 2016-2030 timeframe,” said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Executive Director of the RBM.

The fight against malaria has been one of the great success stories of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with more than six million deaths projected to have been averted between 2000 and 2015, primarily of children less than five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved by the United Nations in September, offer a fresh opportunity to ramp up funding for the disease and stamp it out for good, experts say.

They note that easing the malaria burden would advance development efforts across sectors by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty, increasing gender parity and improving maternal and child health.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Get to Zero, Stay at Zero” – The Comprehensive Plan to End Ebolahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/get-to-zero-stay-at-zero-the-comprehensive-plan-to-end-ebola/#comments Sat, 11 Jul 2015 10:51:17 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141542 By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2015 (IPS)

“The threat is never over until we rebuild,” Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma stressed at an Ebola Recovery Conference Friday in New York.

On May 9, the west African country of Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) after 14 long months battling against the disease. However, two months later,  in only one week ending Jul. 5,  there were 30 confirmed Ebola cases reported in West Africa, three in Liberia, nine in Sierra Leone, and 18 in Guinea, according to the United Nations.

Koroma said that Ebola is a “stubborn enemy” which tends to keep showing its face.

“The battle now is to get the few cases down to zero, and getting our countries and the whole world to stay at zero,Koroma asserted.

During the one-day high-level conference, the presidents of these three west African countries came together at the U.N. headquarters in New York along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Zimbabwe’s President and Chair of the African Union, Robert Mugabe, as well as many other key actors to focus international attention, share recovery plans and raise funds.

In the sub-regional recovery plan there is a strong focus on rebuilding the health institutions, which were already fragile before the epidemic, according to the World Bank’s latest reports, with 4,022 more maternal related deaths of women per year predicted  in West Africa because of the  loss of health workers due to Ebola.

President Mugabe said that “we cannot afford to be complacent” because the underlying causes of the diseases’ exacerbation still exist.

Although there is emphasis on health, the recovery plans are comprehensive, focusing on  issues from water, and sanitation, to gender, youth and social protection; and even information and communication technology.

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf  speaking on behalf of the Mono River Union (MRU), the intergovernmental institution comprising the three countries  — Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia —  stated that the plan is fully aligned with development plans, with a focus on “empowering our communities who were determined to protect their lives and their livelihoods”, cash transfers to local communities being a central part of the plan.

Sirleaf stated that 4 billion dollars was the amount needed for the next two years to implement the sub-regional plans, however over 5 billion dollars was promised during the pledging segment of the conference.

Both Mugabe and Sirleaf  called on the international community for a debt cancellation of 3.16 billion for the three countries, and Mugabe called on the private sector, especially those involved in extracting natural resources, to be socially responsible and engage in building economic resilience in their countries.

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Water and Sanitation Urged as Focal Points at Addis Ababahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/water-and-sanitation-urged-as-focal-points-at-addis-ababa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-urged-as-focal-points-at-addis-ababa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/water-and-sanitation-urged-as-focal-points-at-addis-ababa/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 17:23:24 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141523 A woman carries a container of water in San Mateo, Guatemala. Credit: UN Photo/Antoinette Jongen

A woman carries a container of water in San Mateo, Guatemala. Credit: UN Photo/Antoinette Jongen

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

Ahead of the all-important International Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, a top water charity has called upon world leaders to prioritise programmes for water, sanitation and good hygiene, so that no one is left behind.

WaterAid’s new report, ‘Essential Element’, identifies 45 high-priority countries which have been left behind in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

In a statement, WaterAid Director of Global Policy and Campaigns, Margaret Batty, said, “As government representatives from around the world travel to Addis Ababa, they have a once-in-a-generation chance to tackle extreme poverty and help more children grow up to reach their full potential.

“Safe water and basic toilets create healthier communities, and spare women and girls their long and difficult journeys to fetch water and the indignity and insecurity of having to find a private place to relieve themselves when there is no toilet.”

In each of the 45 high-priority countries identified by WaterAid, half or more of the population does not have a basic, safe place to defecate – polluting the water supply and general environment. As a result their citizens are at high risk of contracting waterborne diseases as well as pandemic illnesses.

The report calls for countries to “look ahead at the challenges that will have a major impact on delivering universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene”, including inequalities between countries, climate change and stress on water resources.

The report demonstrates that for many countries, aid will be a vital international resource to support the achievement of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

When world leaders gather in the Ethiopian capital on Monday, July 13, to hash out the Addis Accord, it is critical they include a strong focus on equity and sustainability of services, says WaterAid. According to the charity, this must incorporate action to address financial absorption and human resource constraints.

The Addis conference will bring together thousands of politicians, lobbyists, policymakers and businesses for five days, in the first of three 2015 summits to work out where money will come from to fund development processes beginning this year. The new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are to be finalised in New York this September.

Currently, roughly 1,400 children die around the world every day from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. More than 660 million people are without safe water, and nearly 2.4 billion are without adequate sanitation, or one in three in the world.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Science and Technology a Game Changer for Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/science-and-technology-a-game-changer-for-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 21:01:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141513 Solar cells on the wings of the Solar Impulse plane. Credit: Solar Impulse

Solar cells on the wings of the Solar Impulse plane. Credit: Solar Impulse

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

A group of international scientists, designated as advisers to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has conveyed a significantly timely message to him: science, technology and innovation (STI) can be “the game changer” for the U.N.’s future development efforts.

Closing the gap between developed and developing countries depends on first closing investment gaps in international science, technology and innovation, says a report released Thursday.The Board calls for an annual Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) - a flagship UN publication, like the Human Development Report - that monitors progress, identifies critical issues and root causes of challenges, and offers potential ways forward.

The Secretary-General’s 26-member Scientific Advisory Board says while a target of one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for research and development (R&D) is perceived as high by many governments, countries with strong and effective STI systems invest up to 3.5 percent of their GPD in R&D.

“If countries wish to break the poverty cycle and achieve (post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals), they will have to set up ambitious national minimum target investments for STI, including special allotments for the promotion of basic science and science education and literacy.”

These investments “can contribute to alleviating poverty, creating jobs, reducing inequalities, increasing income and enhancing health and well-being.”

It can assist in solving critical problems such as access to energy, food and water security, climate change and biodiversity loss, according to the report.

The Board recommends specific investment areas, including “novel alternative energy solutions, water filters that remove pathogens at the point-of-use, new robust building materials from locally available materials, nanotechnology for health and agriculture, and biological approaches to industrial production, environmental remediation and management.”

Created by the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on behalf of the Secretary-General, the Board is comprised of experts from a range of scientific disciplines relevant to sustainable development, including its social and ethical dimensions.

Dr Salvatore Arico, senior programme specialist and team leader, Science-Policy Interface and Assessments Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building Natural Sciences Sector at UNESCO, told IPS STI can be found in all of the four main elements of the post-2015 development agenda: Declaration; SDGs/Targets/indicators; Means of Implementation; and Accountability Frameworks for monitoring & evaluation – in different degrees and in relation to specific systems and sectors.

He pointed out that STI contributes to the knowledge basis, and can and should play an important role for data gathering and analysis, in relation to the several of the proposed 17 SDGs and, particularly, those on water (SDG 6), the food-energy-water nexus (SDGs 2, 6 and 7), and the crosscutting contribution of STI inter alia in relation to ensuring access to energy for all, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, building resilient infrastructures, including of cities and human settlements, combating climate change, and promoting inclusive societies (SDGs 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13 and 16, respectively).

Among its recommendations, the Board calls for an annual Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) – a flagship U.N. publication, like the Human Development Report – that monitors progress, identifies critical issues and root causes of challenges, and offers potential ways forward.

The GSDR would synthesise and integrate findings from a wide range of scientific fields and institutions, developed with strong inter-agency support involving a suggested consortium of U.N. agencies working on sustainable development.

Asked how this should be implemented, Dr Arico told IPS there are indications, especially on the Scientific Advisory Board, that the GDSR should be ‘elevated’ and be designed and conducted so as to become the equivalent of the Human Development Report, which is one of the best known publications in the U.N. system.

“This would require resources and a great level of U.N. inter-agency coordination,” he added.

Additionally, the Board also calls for a dedicated seat for science at an influential new world leaders’ forum created to promote and monitor sustainable development – the U.N. High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development – since science needs to be engaged “formally in the HLPF as an advisor rather than an observer.”

“This could be accomplished by creating a formal seat for science on the HLPF, and/or by involving the Scientific Advisory Board and organisations such as the National Academies of Sciences, UNESCO, International Council for Science (ICSU), Future Earth, regional scientific bodies, and others,” says the report.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Syrians: ‘Biggest Refugee Population From a Single Conflict in a Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 20:51:00 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141510 A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Barely 10 months ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the refugee population from Syria had reached the three million mark. Today, the latest data from the field show that the number has passed four million.

“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement on Jul. 9.

"I took [my son] to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn't, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment." -- Murad, the father of a 27-day-old baby injured in a barrel bomb attack in Syria
“It is a population that deserves the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into abject poverty.”

Midway through its fifth year, the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 has reached catastrophic heights, and yet shows no sign of abating.

What started out as mass demonstrations against long-time ruler Bashar al-Assad now involves multiple armed groups including fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A quarter of a million people are dead, according to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A further 840,000 are injured, with many thousands maimed for life.

And as U.N. agencies struggle to cobble together the funds needed to heal, house and feed millions who have fled bullet-ridden towns and demolished cities, the exodus just keeps growing.

A UNHCR press release issued Thursday said Turkey is hosting 1.8 million Syrians, more than any other nation in the region. Over 250,000 of these refugees are living in 23 camps established and maintained by the Turkish government.

Other countries in the region that have opened their doors to scores of families fleeing the fighting include Lebanon (currently home to over 1.7 million Syrians), Jordan (hosting 629,000 refugees), Iraq (249,000) and Egypt (132,000).

In every single one of these countries, health and infrastructure facilities are quickly nearing breaking point as the hungry, sick and wounded arrive in droves.

On Jul. 9 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that Jordanian hospitals are groaning under a huge patient burden, including numerous Syrians injured by barrel bombs.

In the last two weeks alone more than 65 war-wounded patients turned up at the emergency room of Al-Ramtha hospital in northern Jordan – less than three miles from the Syrian border – where MSF teams have been working with the Jordanian Ministry of Health to provide emergency care to refugees.

The medical humanitarian organisation has called repeatedly for an end to the use of these deadly, improvised weapons, which are typically constructed from oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks filled with explosives and locally-sourced scrap metals dropped from high-altitude helicopters.

Due to the wide impact radius of barrel bomb attacks, victim often suffer wounds that are impossible to treat within Syria’s borders, where many health facilities have been reduced to rubble in the past five years.

“More than 70 percent of the wounded we receive suffer from blast injuries, and their multiple wounds tell their stories,” Renate Sinke, project coordinator of MSF’s emergency surgical programme in Ramtha, said in the statement released Thursday.

Dr. Muhammad Shoaib, MSF’s medical coordinator in Jordan, added, “A significant proportion of the patients we receive have suffered head injuries and other multiple injuries that cannot be treated inside southern Syria, as CT-scans and other treatment options are limited.”

One of the patients at Al-Ramtha Hospital, the father of a 27-day-old child who suffered head injuries as a result of shrapnel from a barrel bomb, recounted his family’s plight, which mirrors the experience of millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of the deadly conflict.

“At 9:00 a.m., a barrel bomb hit our house in Tafas […]. When I heard the news, I dropped what I was doing and I ran to the house as fast as I could […]. I saw my little boy. He was quiet and his head seemed to be injured. I took him to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn’t, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment,” Murad, the boy’s father, told MSF staff.

“It took us one-and-a-half hours from the time of injury until we arrived at the border, and some more before arriving in Ramtha. Now, all I want is for my baby to be better and go back to Syria.”

It is families like these that comprise the bulk of Syrian refugees, the highest recorded since 1992 when Afghan refugees reached an estimated 4.6 million, says the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Indeed, the figure from Syria could well be even higher than field reports suggest, and does not include the roughly 270,000 asylum applications by Syrians in Europe. A further 7.2 million people are displaced inside Syria itself, in remote or heavily embattled regions.

Worse, officials say, is the apparently inverse relationship between emergency needs and humanitarian funding: with the former constantly rising, while the latter shrinks.

UNHCR and its partners had requested 5.5 billion dollars for relief operations in 2015, but so far only a quarter of those funds have been received.

The World Food Programme (WFP), tasked with feeding about six million Syrians inside the country and in the surrounding region, is facing a massive shortfall, and warned last week that unless immediate funding became available, half a million people could starve.

There is also the very real possibility that over 1.7 million people will have to face the coming winter months without fuel or shelter.

As aid supplies dwindle, desperate and impoverished families are sending their children out to earn a living – according to a joint report released this week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children, three quarters of all refugee households surveyed reported that children have become breadwinners.

Against the backdrop of soaring poverty rates, these findings are perhaps not unexpected. An estimated 86 percent of refugees outside of camps in Jordan, for instance, live below the poverty line, while a further 55 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living in “sub-standard” shelters, according to the refugee agency.

While world leaders oscillate between political and military solutions to the crisis, Syrians are faced with a choice: death by shrapnel at home or death by starvation abroad?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “If We Don’t Close the Poverty Gap, the 21st Century Will End in Extreme Violence”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:24:03 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141499 Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Implementation of the ambitious post-2015 development agenda which will be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations depends to a large extent on funding.

Amidst preparations for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) to be held from July 13 to 16, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, discussions centre on “innovative financing mechanisms” as stable and predictable instruments to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) and fill funding gaps at a time when global growth is flagging and most donor countries are facing increasing budgetary pressure.We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Conceived in the early 21st century in the context of the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the idea behind the concept is to “invisibly” raise important amounts of income to correct imbalances and provide funding for the most urgent development needs such as eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of education and global health. The mechanisms involved range from government taxes to public-private partnerships.

A prominent innovative finance example is the global health initiative UNITAID. UNITAID is funded primarily through a one-dollar solidarity levy on airplane tickets. The income raised is spent on global measures to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A more recent example is the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). It is currently seen by governments as both a tool to curb financial speculation and a mechanism to raise considerable revenue – which could be used to finance for development. Ongoing plans on an EU FTT to be implemented in 11 willing EU countries might prove as the next step in innovative finance.

In an interview with IPS, Philippe Douste-Blazy, U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of Innovative Financing for Development, chair and founder of UNITAID and former French foreign minister, shares his insights on the FTT and innovative finance mechanisms shortly ahead of the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this year.

Q: Which role does innovative finance play in the context of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda?

A: 2015 is a historic year because three great international conferences will take place which are vital for the future of the world:  the Addis Ababa conference on Development Finance, the General Assembly of the United Nations where the international community will launch the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 on climate change in Paris.

In all three cases, the scenario will be the same: a magnificent political agreement but without any financial means to back it up. I want to sound the alarm! If we fail to find innovative financing now, at a time when the world has never had so much money but the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening, the 21st century will end in extreme violence.

Q: Financing for development requires considerable financial resources. Is the FTT a suitable tool to raise the necessary funding compared to other innovative finance tools?

A: Finance is currently one of the least taxed economic sectors. It is absolutely surprising when you know the terrible impact this sector had on international development because of the 2008 economic crisis. Implementing a painless percentage tax on financial transactions could generate hundreds of billions worldwide and as a result, be positively decisive on the fight against extreme poverty, pandemics and climate change.

We are now living in a completely globalised world and those threats are upon every citizen of the world. Globalised activities and exchanges should then contribute to international solidarity. That is what we had in mind with President Chirac and President Lula when we implemented the solidarity tax on plane tickets.

People are travelling more and more, so levying a small portion of the price of their tickets offered the opportunity to improve the access to life-saving treatments all around the globe. FTT follows the same logic. Financial needs are considerable and we need to take the money where it is. Innovative financing tools shouldn’t be positioned as rivals, they should instead be seen as complementary.

Q: UNITAID invests the funds raised by means of global solidarity levies to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. What are your results at UNITAID in combating these diseases?

A: First, UNITAID’s investments helped create the market for some key more effective HIV treatments in 2007, by bringing the prices down from 1,500 dollars/year to under 500.

Second, through support to the Global Fund and UNICEF, UNITAID contributed to the delivery of over 437 million of the best antimalarial treatments, helping the global community to reduce deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Third, a 40 percent price reduction for the cartridges of an important new test for tuberculosis (GeneXpert) was negotiated for 145 countries, along with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has saved over 70 million dollars within two years for the global community and has enabled a significant contribution to the 30 percent annual increase in detection of drug resistant TB cases.

Q: Could you tell me about your planned new project UNITLIFE? What is it about and at what stage are the preparations for this project?

A: We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Faced with this scourge which decimates generations, destabilises societies and severely penalises nations, notably in Africa, we have the duty to imagine a response combining efficacy and solidarity: this is why we want to launch UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE is based on a simple principle: allocating to the fight against malnutrition an infinitesimal part of the immense riches created by the use of extractive resources in Africa in such a way that the globalisation of solidarity matches the globalization of the economy. So far six African Heads of State accepted such a principle. As UNITAID is hosted by the WHO, UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF.

Q: How does a future FTT implemented in the 11 European countries need to look in order to be beneficial and effective? How do you assess for instance the examples of the French or Italian FTT?

A: French and Italian FTT are really disappointing. They are not fulfilling the expectations neither in terms of regulation nor about revenues. It seems that French and Italian governments were just concerned by the defence of their financial sectors.

The exemptions that are organised are preventing the tax from touching the most speculative transactions. Derivatives, market makers, intra-day and high frequency trading are not taxable with the two models whereas they’re the most dangerous.

Furthermore, it’s in taxing these instruments that a FTT would levy the most resources. For the same reasons, a European FTT that wouldn’t be applied on foreign shares will be highly disappointing. Instead of being scared of the reaction of financial sectors, the 11 political leaders must show real ambition and design a strong FFT with a broad scope and preventing loopholes.

Q: How can you make sure that a certain percentage of the money raised by the tax will be spent on development?

A: Seventeen percent of the French FTT is already allocated to climate and pandemics. President Hollande said he will allocate a part of the European FTT to the same causes; let’s hope that the portion will be bigger!

[Spanish] Prime Minister Marianno Rajoy also committed to allocate a part of the revenue to international solidarity but so far these are the only declarations we have. It would be really interesting to see the eleven

Heads of State committing together on a joint allocation to international solidarity. Using the FTT revenue to finance multilateral funds like the Global Fund, the World Health Organization  or the Green Fund would be the best way to be sure the money raised is actually spent on development.

And today when I see those tens of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, which is becoming the world’s biggest cemetery, I want to underline that the only solution to massive immigration from poor to rich countries is to provide what we call Global Public Goods (food, potable water, essential medicines, education and sanitation) to every human being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ebola Recovery Focuses on Strengthening Africa’s Health Systemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ebola-recovery-focuses-on-strengthening-africas-health-systems/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 20:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141465 Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouma Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing delegates in a run-up to an international Ebola recovery conference, said last month that “all of the investments, all of the sacrifices and all of the risks by relief workers” would be squandered if an outbreak of the disease recurs.

And it did – in Liberia, a country which had been declared free of the Ebola virus."The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse." -- Dr. Matshidiso Moeti

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which made that declaration on May 9, confirmed that a 17-year-old Liberian who died of Ebola last week had been in contact with nearly 200 people possibly triggering the spread of the infection.

As of last week, more than 27,100 people were affected by the highly contagious disease, which killed over 11,100, mostly in three African countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations is hosting a high-level international Ebola Recovery Conference July 10, primarily to provide a platform for the three countries to share their recovery plans and, more importantly, to raise funds to continue the fight against the disease and also strengthen health care systems in the region.

Nicolas Douillet of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Africa told IPS the conference aims to mobilise the international community in support of the three countries.

The total needs identified by the three countries, and regionally, by the Mano River Union, he said, amount to 7.2 billion dollars for the next 24 months – 3.2 billion for the three countries and 4.0 billion for the Mano River Union, an Intergovernmental Institution comprising Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

The total requested, however, is 9.0 billion dollars, of which 1.8 billion is already committed, leaving a financing gap of 7.2 billion dollars.

Speaking of the need for strong health care systems, former U.S. President Bill Clinton told a U.N. meeting last May that severely limited resources were a “staggering burden” – and countries in West Africa were requesting funds to build better and stronger health systems through multi-year plans.

Before the Ebola outbreak, he said, Liberia had just one physician for every 71,000 people. He said Ebola had been in many fundamental ways a “man-made disaster.”

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse,” he warned.

Sarah Edwards, head of Policy & Campaigns at Health Poverty Action, told IPS: “Yes, there certainly needs to be a focus on the longer term need for health systems strengthening at this conference and across the wider Ebola response, and specifically this needs to consider how health systems in Ebola-affected countries can be funded sustainably.”

She said this should include measures to support affected countries to explore the potential for increased tax revenues to fund HSS; take action to stop illicit capital flight; and pay compensation for any health workers trained in affected countries who are now working in the UK.

After a visit to the region last October, Magdy Martínez-Solimán, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, said: “This devastating health crisis is destroying lives and communities. It is also impairing national economies, wiping out livelihoods and basic services, and could undo years of efforts to stabilize West Africa.”

“As we work together to end the outbreak, now is the time to ensure these countries can also continue to function and swiftly get back on their feet,” he added.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, already suffering from some of the lowest levels of human development in the world, had emerged from years of civil conflict and political instability and were starting to make encouraging progress, according to UNDP.

Last September, the United Nations established the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), a single structure that will aim to stop the spread of the disease and prevent it from appearing in unaffected countries, as well as treat and care for the infected.

The UNDP said gross domestic product (GDP) in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has shrunk by two to three percentage points. The countries are now projected to lose a total of 13 billion dollars as a result of Ebola. People’s livelihoods are shrinking from lost wages and decreased productivity.

The participants in Friday’s conference at the United Nations include: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Chair of the African Union (AU), Alpha Condé, President of Guinea; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone.

The meeting is in partnership with the AU, the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The AU will hold its own “International Conference on Africa’s Fight Against Ebola” July 20-21 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Meanwhile the Washington-based ONE campaign said keeping track of pledges and monitoring their disbursement, has proved difficult and – at times – impossible “because of inconsistent, inefficient, and often opaque reporting processes and standards.”

In a white paper released Tuesday, it said: “One of the most fundamental questions asked during a humanitarian crisis is, ‘how much have donors promised to this effort?’

“But in the case of the Ebola outbreak, this question has been incredibly difficult to answer — and that’s a huge problem,” ONE’s Global Health Policy Director Erin Hohlfelder said.

“If we don’t know what has really been pledged and delivered, no one can adequately match promised resources to the needs on the ground. That means gaps cannot be easily identified and we risk losing time, resources, and lives.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Despite Scepticism, U.N. Hails Its Anti-Poverty Programmehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-scepticism-u-n-hails-its-anti-poverty-programme/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 21:42:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141443 Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Washing clothes in a stream, Mchinji District, Malawi. Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which launched one of its most ambitious anti-poverty development programmes back in 2000, has hailed it as a riveting success story – despite shortcomings.

Launching the final report of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a meeting in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “following profound and consistent gains, we now know that extreme poverty can be eradicated within one more generation.”“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty." -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The MDGs, which are targeted to end this December, “have greatly contributed to this progress, and have taught us how governments, business, and civil society can work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs,” he said.

The United Nations claims it has cut poverty by half. “The world met that goal – and we should be very proud of that achievement,” he added.

But the target for the complete eradication of poverty from the developing world has been set for 2030 under a proposed post-2015 development agenda, including a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be launched at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Goal-setting can lift millions of people out of poverty, empower women and girls, improve health and well-being, and provide vast new opportunities for better lives, according to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 released Monday.

“Only two short decades ago, nearly half of the developing world lived in extreme poverty. The number of people now living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015,” the study said.

But civil society organisations (CSOs) were sceptical about the claims.

Jens Martens, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (New York/Bonn), told IPS rather bluntly: ”The MDGs are not a success story.”

They reduced the development discourse to a small number of quantitative goals and targets and did not touch the structural framework conditions of development, he said.

Pointing out some of the shortcomings, he said the goal on income poverty has been weak and the threshold of 1.25 dollars per day completely inadequate. Someone with a per capita income of 1.26 dollars is still poor.

“And focusing only on income poverty is not at all sufficient. Governments have to deal with the problems of poverty and inequality in all their dimensions.”

Furthermore, said Martens, the MDGs did not take into account that the consumption and production patterns of the people in the global North, with their impact on climate change and biodiversity, have grave consequences for the survival and living conditions of the people in the global South.

Therefore, it is good news that the new SDGs reflect a much broader development approach, are universal and multidimensional, and contain not only goals for the poor but also goals for the rich, he noted.

Ben Phillips, International Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid, told IPS world leaders cannot fulfil their pledge to end poverty unless they tackle the crisis of the widening gap in wealth and power between the richest and the rest.

Ending poverty by 2030 cannot and should not be only an arithmetic exercise on the basis of very low dollar poverty lines which will not guarantee a life of dignity for all, he said.

“If people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to water and sanitation, to education or health coverage, the income threshold is not the end of poverty,” Phillips said.

Even to get beyond the very low poverty lines they have, however, growth will not be enough if it is not more evenly shared, he said.

“The world can overcome poverty and ensure dignity for all if political leaders find the courage to challenge inequality by boosting jobs, increasing minimum wages, providing universal public services, stopping tax dodging and tackling climate change.”

Governments need to stand up to corporate interests who are now so powerful that they are not only the sole beneficiaries of global rigged rules but the co-authors of them, he argued.

“It’s clear that governments will only take on the power of money if they are challenged by the power of the people.”

Still, the good news is that the movement to tackle inequality and confront plutocracy is growing, declared Phillips.

Martens told IPS lessons from the MDGs show that development goals are only useful if they are linked to clear commitments by governments to provide the necessary means of implementation.

That’s why the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development (FfD), scheduled to take place in Ethiopia next week, is of utmost importance.

To avoid the complete failure of this conference, he said, all governments have to accept that they have common but differentiated responsibilities to provide the necessary means to implement the SDGs; and they have to strengthen the U.N. substantially in international tax cooperation by establishing an intergovernmental tax body within the U.N.

Meanwhile the Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 found that the 15-year effort to achieve the eight aspirational goals set out in the Millennium Declaration in 2000 was largely successful across the globe, while acknowledging shortfalls that remain.

The data and analysis presented in the report show that, with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest can make progress.

Highlighting some of the shortcomings, the report said that although significant gains have been made for many of the MDG targets worldwide, progress has been uneven across regions and countries, leaving significant gaps.

Conflicts remain the biggest threat to human development, with fragile and conflict-affected countries typically experiencing the highest poverty rates.

Gender inequality persists in spite of more representation of women in parliament and more girls going to school.

Women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making, according to the report.

Despite enormous progress driven by the MDGs, about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger.

Children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the wealthiest 20 per cent and are also four times as likely to be out of school. In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 per cent in 1999 to 36 per cent in 2012, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Love & Mercy, the Croatian Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-love-mercy-the-croatian-way/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:43:10 +0000 Emina Cerimovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141435

Emina Ćerimović is a Koenig fellow at Human Rights Watch and carried out research in 2014 on institutionalization of people with disabilities in Croatia.

By Emina Ćerimović
NEW YORK, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Last week, I went to see the new flick “Love & Mercy,” about the life of Brian Wilson, a singer, songwriter, and the genius behind The Beach Boys. I hadn’t heard much about the film. In fact, I was expecting a summer movie about surfing and fun; The Beach Boys playing Kokomo, Good Vibrations, and Surfin’ U.S.A. on sunny California  beaches.

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

Emina Ćerimović. Photo Courtesy of HRW

I was wrong. Instead, lives of hundreds of people I’ve met unfolded on the screen.

Love & Mercy depicts Wilson in two narratives: in the first, he is portrayed at the height of his fame as the leader of The Beach Boys in the 1960s. The second features a middle-aged Wilson misdiagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by Eugene Landy, Wilson’s therapist and legal guardian.

In the movie, Landy keeps Wilson heavily medicated as he controls every aspect of his life, including his finances, residence, family relationships and social interactions, and other basic life decisions. In one scene, Wilson talks about not speaking to his mother and daughters for years because Landy “doesn’t think it is a good idea.”

In another, Landy tells Wilson when and how much he should eat and whom he should date. Landy himself explains his influence:  “I’m the control. He is a little boy in a man’s body… It is my job, my duty to approve everyone Brian is spending time with.”Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants.

Wilson did not argue against Landy taking charge for fear that Landy would have him committed to an institution. As Wilson explains in the movie: “I can’t do that [disobey Landy]. He is my legal guardian. He can do things to me… He can send me away… There’s no way out.”

As the movie unfolded, it wasn’t solely Wilson’s story that I saw on the screen. I was reminded of Tatjana and Ivan, whom I met in Croatia. They are among the 18,000 people with disabilities placed under guardianship there and denied their right to make decisions about their lives.

More than 90 percent live under full guardianship, under which the guardians – often nominated by the government – make all life decisions for them.

Tatjana was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 30s, deprived of her legal capacity and placed under guardianship. She is now 47 but can’t visit her daughter or her mother without the permission of her guardian – in her case, a social worker.

It is the same if she wants to move to another house, get married, sign an employment contract, make health care decisions, or even officially publish her poems. Tatjana lived for nine years in an institution against her will because her legal guardian placed her there.  

Ivan is 30 and was diagnosed with mild mental health problems. He was just 16 when he was placed indefinitely in Lopaca, a psychiatric hospital where 168 people, including 20 children, are confined. He still lives there.

Ivan and Tatjana told me that they did not consent to their confinement to an institution. They were, in fact, never asked about their preferences, wishes and wants. Both of them were stripped of their right to make decisions about their lives and appointed legal guardians.

Neither Tatjana nor Ivan was present during the court proceedings determining their legal capacity so they could  provide their input for this major decision about their life.  While guardians are supposed to only oversee decisions with legal consequences, such as signing contracts, in Croatia – just like what was depicted in Love & Mercy –guardians can monitor and control every move a person makes.

I saw firsthand that people with disabilities trapped in institutions in Croatia can experience a range of abuses including verbal abuse, forced treatment, involuntary confinement in hospitals, and limited freedom of movement.

At a pivotal point in the movie, Landy forbids Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter, his current wife, from seeing each other. That triggers Ledbetter, the true heroine of the movie, to intensify her efforts to free Wilson from Landy’s control. She learns that Wilson’s will would have awarded the vast majority of his wealth to Landy. The good news: Wilson’s family files a lawsuit successfully challenging the guardianship.

Sadly, there are no heroines to free Tatjana or Ivan of their guardians. There is a chance of a happy ending though. Croatia, unlike the U.S., has ratified the U.N. Disability Rights Treaty, which requires governments to move away from guardianship and instead provide a system of assistance and support for decision-making that respects the autonomy, will, and preferences of the person with the disability. Croatian laws, however, don’t reflect this.

Key policymakers in the Croatian government should see “Love & Mercy.” Maybe then they will abolish Croatia’s guardianship regime and provide a wide range of support measures. Who knew that The Beach Boys’ influence could go so far beyond their music?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Toilets with Piped Music for Rich, Open Defecation on Rail Tracks for Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:34:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141368 Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

As most developing nations fall short of meeting their goals on sanitation, the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a new U.N. report released here.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’, authored by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), says one in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces." -- Tim Brewer of WaterAid

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” he said.

Pointing out the existing inequities, the report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

Still, the world has made “spectacular progress” in water, Jeffrey O’Malley, Director, Data, at UNICEF’s Research and Policy Division, told reporters Tuesday.

In 2015, 91 percent of the global population used an improved drinking water source, up from 76 percent in 1990, while 6.6 billion people have access to improved drinking water.

The total without access globally is now 663 million, almost a 100 million fewer than last year’s estimate, and the first time the number has fallen below 700 million.

As the MDGs expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report.

Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the MDG goal on water was met largely because of those who were easiest to reach.

“The poorest are often still being left behind. What we need to do in the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now under negotiation, is to make sure that progress for the poorest is made the headline figure.”

“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces,” he noted.

Brewer said monitoring is key: “We need to measure basic access for the poor, as well as measuring other indicators such as whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated.”

“This is the only way to make sure we reach everyone, everywhere by 2030 and hold governments accountable to their promises,” he argued.

In countries like Japan and South Korea, according to published reports, sanitation is far beyond a basic necessity: it has the trappings of luxury with piped in music, automatic flushing, and in some cases, scenic window views — even while millions in developing nations defecate openly in nearby rural jungles or on rail tracks (with their bowel movements apparently being coordinated with train schedules, according to a New York Times report.)

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Asked if it would be realistic for sanitation goals to be rolled into the proposed SDGs with a target date of 2030, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS that an even more ambitious sanitation target is suggested for the new SDG agenda – to eliminate open defecation and achieve universal access to sanitation.

“I think the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2030 is possible, but only if we start focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable right now (rather than waiting for the wealthiest to gain access first, as has historically been the case).”

He said: “We can also learn from the successes of the past 25 years, and especially the last 15. A number of countries have made rapid gains during the MDG era.’

For example, he pointed out, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation rates by 64 percentage points and Thailand has closed the gap in access between the richest and the poorest.

This shows what is possible when countries recognise the importance of tackling inequalities in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), thus unlocking wider benefits in health, nutrition, education and economic productivity, he noted.

Asked how the sanitation problem can be resolved, Wijesekera told IPS: “Sanitation is not rocket science; most developed countries take it for granted.”

“But our experience on the ground in developing countries shows that it is not just a question of governments investing money and technology. It is also about changing ordinary people’s attitudes and behaviours, and this takes time,” he said.

Sanitation can best be addressed by countries establishing and investing in people and systems at a local level to change people’s behaviours, and to get the private sector engaged in providing affordable and good quality products and services for the poor.

This, he said, needs to be led by countries themselves, and donors, international organisations and the private sector all have a role in providing financing and expertise.

He also said there is a growing awareness of the importance of sanitation as a foundation for human and economic development.

World leaders – from the U.N. Secretary-General, to the President of the World Bank, to the Prime Minister of India – are all talking about it.

“We need to translate this high level political support into action in order for all people to have access to what is theirs as a human right: clean drinking water and adequate sanitation,” said Wijesekera.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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