Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Take a Deep Breath? But 9 in 10 People Worldwide Live with Excessive Air Pollution!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147149 WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

The warning is sharp and the facts, alarming: 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where levels exceed recommended limits. And 6.5 million people die annually from air pollution.

And the warning comes from the leading United Nations agency dealing with health, which rolled out its most detailed profile of the scourge ever in a bid to slash the deadly toll.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” the Geneva-based UN World Health Organization (WHO) top environmental official Maria Neira on 27 September said of the new air quality model, which includes interactive maps that highlight areas within countries exceeding WHO limits.

The world’s population reached 7.35 billion last year, according to UN figures.

What to Do Then?

“Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions,” Dr. Neira added.

Nearly 90 per cent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in the South-east Asia and Western Pacific regions.
“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” WHO’s Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo said for her part. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last,” she added.

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. But not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP


“The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combating it,” Dr. Bustreo said.
Developed in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, it represents WHO’s most detailed outdoor air pollution-related health data ever, based on satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Indoor Air Pollution as Deadly as Outdoor Exposure

Some three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Ninety-four per cent of the deaths are due to non-communicable diseases – notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

“This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths – one in nine of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr. Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

The Ambient Air quality guidelines of WHO limit annual mean exposure to particulate matter with a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing the greatest health risks.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted at a UN summit in 2015, call for substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution.

The issue of sustainable cities, which is one of the SDGs, will be at the heart of a media and civil society organisations training workshop, organised by IPS and the UN Foundation http://www.unfoundation.org/, scheduled to take place in Quito on October 27-28.

Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre


The Quito workshop is part of a series of IPS-UNF training events in two European and one Asian country, all of them taking place during October and November, under the common title: Decoding the Future.

Disconnection Between People and the Environment

Anyway, no region is safe. For instance, in prosperous Europe, air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the pan-European region, according to the latest report by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Economic Commission in Europe.

The report, which was released on June 8, calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the transboundary challenges in the pan-European region, which comprises the 53 countries spanning Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and Israel.

Of these challenges, air pollution is the greatest threat with more than 95 per cent of the European Union (EU) urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation guidelines, according to latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment released today by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributed to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012, according to the assessment.
UNEP and UNECE have alerted that an urgent shift from incremental to transformational change will help to reverse some of these indicators.

“The GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region highlights how the transition to an inclusive green economy in the region must be built on resilient ecosystems, sound management of chemicals and clean production systems, and on healthy consumption choices,” Jan Dusik, Head of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe, said.

The report also finds that environmental challenges in the region have become more systemic and complex, while resilience to these will be affected by megatrends largely outside the region’s control.

“This report provides fresh information on the region’s emerging environmental issues and it will help governments shape their future policy,” said UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach.

Other challenges discussed in the assessment include climate change, considered one of the largest threats to human and ecosystem health, and to achieving sustainable development in the pan-European region.

“It is also an accelerator for most other environmental risks, with impacts affecting health through floods, heat waves, droughts, reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution and allergies and vector, food and water-borne diseases.”

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Governments Band Together to Address Antibiotic Resistancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/governments-band-together-to-address-antibiotic-resistance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-band-together-to-address-antibiotic-resistance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/governments-band-together-to-address-antibiotic-resistance/#comments Sat, 24 Sep 2016 17:06:08 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147075 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/governments-band-together-to-address-antibiotic-resistance/feed/ 0 Myths, Secrets and Inequality Surround Ugandan Women’s Sex Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/myths-secrets-and-inequality-surround-ugandan-womens-sex-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myths-secrets-and-inequality-surround-ugandan-womens-sex-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/myths-secrets-and-inequality-surround-ugandan-womens-sex-lives/#comments Sun, 11 Sep 2016 00:14:40 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146867 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/myths-secrets-and-inequality-surround-ugandan-womens-sex-lives/feed/ 0 Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Uruguay’s Victory over Philip Morris: a Win for Tobacco Control and Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:49:27 +0000 German Velasquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146586 Credit: Bigstock

Credit: Bigstock

By Germán Velásquez
GENEVA, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In a landmark decision that has been hailed as a victory of public health measures against narrow commercial interests, an international tribunal has dismissed a claim by tobacco giant company Philip Morris that the Uruguay government violated its rights by instituting tobacco control measures.

The ruling had been much anticipated as it was the first international case brought against a government for taking measures to curb the marketing of tobacco products.

Philip Morris had started proceedings in February 2010 against Uruguay at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) under a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between Uruguay and Switzerland. The decision was given on 8 July 2016.

Under the BIT, foreign companies can take cases against the host state on various grounds, including if its policies constitute an expropriation of the companies” expectation of profits, or a violation of “fair and equitable treatment” These investment treaties and arbitration tribunals like ICSID have been heavily criticised in recent years for decisions favouring companies and that critics argue violate the right of states to regulate in the public interest.

In this particular case, the tribunal gave a ruling that dismissed the tobacco giant’s claims and upheld that the Uruguayan pro-health measures were allowed.

President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, responding to the ruling, stated on 8 July:: “We have succeeded to prove at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes that our country, without violating any treaty, has met its unwavering commitment to defend the health of its people… From now on, when tobacco companies try to undermine the regulations adopted in the context of the framework tobacco convention with the threat of litigation, they (countries) will find our precedent.”

Germán Velásquez

Germán Velásquez

Philip Morris International (PMI) started legal proceedings against Uruguay’ government at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), based at the World Bank, in February 2010. This was the first time the tobacco industry challenged a state in front of an international tribunal.

Philip Morris claimed that the health measures imposed by the Ministry of Health of Uruguay violated its intellectual property rights and failed to comply with Uruguay’s obligation under its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Switzerland.

Two specific measures were contested by Philip Morris. The first measure was the Single Presentation Requirement introduced by the Uruguayan Public Health Ministry in 2008, where tobacco manufacturers could no longer sell multiple varieties of one brand. Philip Morris had to withdraw 7 of its 12 products and alleged that the restriction to market only one variety substantially affected its company’s value.

The second measure contested by Philip Morris was the so-called “80/80 Regulation”. Under a presidential decree, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages should cover 80 percent instead of 50 percent, of the packaging, leaving only 20 percent for the tobacco companies’ trademarks and advertisement.

Uruguay adopted strict tobacco control policies to comply with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in light of evidence that tobacco consumption leads to addiction, illness, and death.

According to the Ministry of Health, since Uruguay introduced its tobacco control programme in 2003, its comprehensive tobacco control campaign has resulted in a substantial and unprecedented decrease in tobacco use.

From 2005 to 2011 per person consumption of cigarettes dropped by 25.8 %. Tobacco consumption among school-going youth aged 12­17 decreased from over 30 percent to 9.2 percent from 2003 to 2011. Ministry of Health data also indicate that since smoke-free laws were introduced, hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction has reduced by 22 percent.

Since this was the first international litigation, the case is highly important for similar debates taking place in other forums, like the World Trade Organization, where some states are being challenged by other states for their tobacco control measures. It is a significant victory for a state facing commercial threats by tobacco companies fighting control measures.

The decision is supportive of states that choose to exercise their sovereign right to introduce laws and strategies to control tobacco sales in order to protect the health of their population.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay”s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion. The international lawyer and practitioner in investment treaty arbitration Todd Weiler stated in a legal opinion that: “the claim is nothing more than the cynical attempt by a wealthy multinational corporation to make an example of a small country with limited resources to defend against a well-funded international legal action.”

An important aspect of the case was that the secretariats of the World Health Organization and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) submitted an amicus brief during the proceedings.

The brief provided an overview of global tobacco control, including the role of the WHO FCTC. It set out the public health evidence underlying Uruguay’s tobacco packaging and labelling laws and detailed state practice in implementing similar measures.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay''s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion
The Tribunal accepted the submission of the amicus brief on the basis that it provided an independent perspective on the matters in the dispute and contributed expertise from “qualified agencies”. The Tribunal subsequently relied on the brief at several points of the factual and legal analysis in their decision.

In accepting submission of the amicus brief the Tribunal noted that given the “public interest involved in this case”the amicus brief would “support the transparency of the proceeding”.

The Tribunal ruling upheld that Uruguay could maintain the following specific regulations:

Prohibiting tobacco companies from marketing cigarettes in ways that falsely present some cigarettes as less harmful than others.

Requiring tobacco companies to use 80% of the front and back of cigarette packs for graphic/pictures of warnings of the health danger of smoking.

According to expert Chakravarthi Raghavan there are several specific legal findings of the panel ruling, including:

  1. Uruguay did not violate any of its obligations under the Switzerland/Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty, or deny Philip Morris any of the protections provided by that Treaty.
  1. Uruguay’s regulatory measures did not “expropriate” Philip Morris’ property. They were bona fide exercises of Uruguay’s sovereign police power to protect public health.
  1. The measures did not deny Philip Morris “fair and equitable treatment” because they were not arbitrary; instead, they were reasonable measures strongly supported by the scientific literature, and had received broad support from the global tobacco control community.
  1. The measures did not “unreasonably and discriminatorily” deny Philip Morris the use and enjoyment of its trademark rights, because they were enacted in the interests of legitimate policy concerns and were not motivated by an intention to deprive Philip Morris of the value of its investment.

This is a landmark ruling because it supports the case that it is the sovereign right not only of Uruguay but of States in general to adopt laws and regulations to protect public health by regulating the marketing and distribution of tobacco products.

It is hoped that many other countries, which have been awaiting this decision before adopting similar regulations, will follow Uruguay’s example.President Vázquez said it is time for other nations to join Uruguay in this struggle, “without any fear of retaliation from powerful tobacco corporations, as Uruguay has done.”

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of public concern worldwide about the role that bilateral investment treaties has played in curbing the policy space of countries, including for health policies. There have also been serious concerns about the rulings made by other tribunals of ICSID and other arbitration centres, which have favoured the claims of companies and imposed high monetary awards against states. In the case of Philip Morris versus Uruguay, the tribunal’s ruling was correct in supporting the state’s right to regulate in the interest of public health. But the concerns in general are still valid. Other tribunals in other cases may or may not be so sympathetic to the public interest.

This is a reduced version of the article published in www.southcentre.int.

 

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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Deadly Yellow Fever Spreading, Amid Global Vaccine Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:59:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146613 A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

As deadly yellow fever spreads to seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), new measures have been introduced to ensure that as many people as possible are immunised, despite global shortages of the yellow fever vaccine.

Global emergency stocks of just 6 million yellow fever vaccines have been strained by the current outbreak, which began in Angola and has now spread to neighbouring DRC.

To reach as many people as possible with the limited supply of vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started recommending the use of partial doses.

“Studies done in adults show that fractional dosing using one fifth of the regular dose provides effective immunity against yellow fever for at least 12 months and possibly much longer,” WHO Spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told IPS.

The WHO began recommending that fractional doses could be used as an emergency measure in June 2016, ensuring additional doses would be available for mass vaccination campaigns in Angola and the DRC.

The WHO has also recently changed its recommendations for those who have already been immunised with a complete dose of the yellow fever vaccine.

“We know now that a single complete dose provides lifelong protection,” said Jašarević.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children.

The change in recommendation happened on 11 July 2016, but also applies retrospectively to those already carrying certificates of immunisation required for travel.

“This lifetime validity of these certificates applies automatically to certificates issued after 11 July 2016, as well as certificates already issued,” said Jašarević.

The new measures will potentially mean that more doses are available for mass vaccination campaigns such as the one the DRC government began in Kinshasa this week.

IPS spoke with Heather Kerr who is the DRC Country Director of Save the Children, which is providing support to the DRC Ministry of Health’s mass vaccination campaign.

“So far in DRC there are 74 actual confirmed cases and there’ve been 16 deaths from those cases,” she said. This means that more than 20 percent of people who have contracted yellow fever in the DRC have died. The number of suspected cases in the DRC and Angola is much higher.

“Obviously a big city like Kinshasa worries us, we don’t really know how many people there are in Kinshasa, no census has been done since the 1980s but we estimate around 10 million.”

The current campaign aims to reach 420,000 people in Kinshasa over 10 days, said Kerr.

“The governments decision was in Kinshasa to use what’s called the fractionalised dose, so it’s a fifth of the normal dose.”

Kerr says that since the fractional doses only provide protection for one year, revaccination will be required, but that hopefully by this time there will be more vaccines available globally.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” she said.

“There’s no known cure for yellow fever,” said Kerr. “Prevention is better than cure always, but in this case it really is, so that’s why this vaccination campaign is so important.”

In the early stages Kerr says that yellow fever either has hardly any symptoms or symptoms such as fever, nausea and diarrhea “which could be confused also with something like malaria.”

“Then the more severe symptoms are bleeding because it’s a haemorrhagic fever, and then people can become severely jaundiced and can go into organ failure and that’s why it’s called yellow fever.”

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:11:20 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146547 Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Aug 15 2016 (IPS)

Bags of wheat speed down multiple conveyor belts to be heaved onto trucks lined up during the middle of a blisteringly hot afternoon beside the busy docks of Djibouti Port.

Once loaded, the trucks set off westward toward Ethiopia carrying food aid to help with its worst drought for decades.“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo.” -- Aboubaker Omar, Chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority

With crop failures ranging from 50 to 90 percent in parts of the country, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, was forced to seek international tenders and drastically increase wheat purchases to tackle food shortages effecting at least 10 million people.

This resulted in extra ships coming to the already busy port city of Djibouti, and despite the hive of activity and efforts of multitudes of workers, the ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough. The result: a bottleneck with ships stuck out in the bay unable to berth to unload.

“We received ships carrying aid cargo and carrying fertilizer at the same time, and deciding which to give priority to was a challenge,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA). “If you give priority to food aid, which is understandable, then you are going to face a problem with the next crop if you don’t get fertilizer to farmers on time.”

Since mid-June until this month, Ethiopian farmers have been planting crops for the main cropping season that begins in September. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with the Ethiopian government to help farmers sow their fields and prevent drought-hit areas of the country from falling deeper into hunger and food insecurity.

Spring rains that arrived earlier this year, coupled with ongoing summer rains, should increase the chances of more successful harvests, but that doesn’t reduce the need for food aid now—and into the future, at least for the short term.

“The production cycle is long,” says FAO’s Ethiopia country representative Amadou Allahoury. “The current seeds planted in June and July will only produce in September and October, so therefore the food shortage remains high despite the rain.”

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

As of the middle of July, 12 ships remained at anchorage outside Djibouti Port waiting to unload about 476,750 metric tonnes of wheat—down from 16 ships similarly loaded at the end of June—according to information on the port’s website. At the same time, four ships had managed to dock carrying about 83,000 metric tonnes of wheat, barley and sorghum.

“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo,” Aboubaker says.

It’s estimated that 1,500 trucks a day leave Djibouti for Ethiopia and that there will be 8,000 a day by 2020 as Ethiopia tries to address the shortage.

But so many additional trucks—an inefficient and environmentally damaging means of transport—might not be needed, Aboubaker says, if customs procedures could be sped up on the Ethiopian side so it doesn’t take current trucks 10 days to complete a 48-hour journey from Djibouti to Addis Ababa to make deliveries.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” Aboubaker says. “We are building and making efficient roads and railways: we are building bridges but there is what you call invisible barriers—this documentation. The Ethiopian government relies too much on customs revenue and so doesn’t want to risk interfering with procedures.”

Ethiopians are not famed for their alacrity when it comes to paperwork and related bureaucratic processes. Drought relief operations have been delayed by regular government assessments of who the neediest are, according to some aid agencies working in Ethiopia.

And even once ships have berthed, there still remains the challenge of unloading them, a process that can take up to 40 days, according to aid agencies assisting with Ethiopia’s drought.

“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” port official Dawit Gebre-ab says of workers toiling away in temperatures around 38 degrees Celsius that with humidity of 52 percent feel more like 43 degrees. “But the ports have to continue.”

The port’s 24-hour system of three eight-hour shifts mitigates some of the travails for those working outside, beyond the salvation of air conditioning—though not entirely.

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“We feel pain everywhere, for sure,” Agaby says during the hottest afternoon shift, a fluorescent vest tied around his forehead as a sweat rag, standing out of the sun between those trucks being filled with bags of wheat from conveyor belts. “It is a struggle.”

To help get food aid away to where it is needed and relieve pressure on the port, a new 756 km railway running between Djibouti and Ethiopia was brought into service early in November 2015—it still isn’t actually commissioned—with a daily train that can carry about 2,000 tonnes, Aboubaker says. Capacity will increase further once the railway is fully commissioned this September and becomes electrified, allowing five trains to run carrying about 3,500 tonnes each.

Djibouti also has three new ports scheduled to open in the second half of the year—allowing more ships to dock—while the one at Tadjoura will have another railway line going westward to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. This, Aboubaker explains, should connect with the railway line currently under construction in Ethiopia running south to north to connect the cities of Awash and Mekele, further improving transport and distribution options in Ethiopia.

“Once the trains are running in September we hope to clear the backlog of vessels within three months,” Aboubaker says.

The jam at the port has highlighted for Ethiopia—not that it needs reminding—its dependency on Djibouti. Already about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s trade goes through Djibouti. In 2005 this amounted to two million tonnes and now stands at 11 million tonnes. During the next three years it is set to increase to 15 million tonnes.

Hence Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its options, strengthening bilateral relations with Somaliland through various Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU) during the past couple of years.

The most recent of these stipulated about 30 percent of Ethiopia’s imports shifting to Berbera Port, which this May saw Dubai-based DP World awarded the concession to manage and expand the underused and underdeveloped port for 30 years, a project valued at about $442 million and which could transform Berbera into another major Horn of Africa trade hub.

But such is Ethiopia’s growth—both in terms of economy and population; its current population of around 100 million is set to reach 130 million by 2025, according to the United Nations—that some say it’s going to need all the ports it can get.

“Ethiopia’s rate of development means Djibouti can’t satisfy demand, and even if Berbera is used, Ethiopia will also need [ports in] Mogadishu and Kismayo in the long run, and Port Sudan,” says Ali Toubeh, a Djiboutian entrepreneur whose container company is based in Djibouti’s free trade zone.

Meanwhile as night descends on Djibouti City, arc lights dotted across the port are turned on, continuing to blaze away as offloading continues and throughout the night loaded Ethiopian trucks set out into the hot darkness.

“El Niño will impact families for a long period as a number of them lost productive assets or jobs,” Amadou says. “They will need time and assistance to recover.”

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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False Promises: Avoid ‘Miracle’ Rice and Just Eat a Carrothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:06:38 +0000 Vandana Shiva 2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146509 TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.]]> Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

By Dr Vandana Shiva
NEW DELHI, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, died on September 9, 2009. Alfred G. Gilman died on December 23, 2015.

Both were Nobel laureates and now both dead. Gilman was a signatory to a recent letter condemning Greenpeace and its opposition to genetic engineering.

How many Nobel laureates does it take to write a letter? Easily ascertained — the dead Gilman and 106 others were enlisted in “supporting GMOs and golden rice”. Correct answer — 107, dead or alive.

The laureates were rounded up by Val Giddings (senior fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation), Jon Entine (author of Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People) and Jay Byrne (former head of corporate communications, Monsanto). Real people don’t have the luxury of getting Nobel laureates to write 1/107th of a letter, “chosen” folk do. Evidently.

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Cornell University is a “chosen” institution – central to genetically modified public relations. The Cornell Alliance of Science is funded by Bill Gates, just like the failed golden rice experiment.

The Nobel laureates accuse Greenpeace of killing millions by delaying ghost rice — something the biotech industry accuses me of doing, for the same reason. Unlike golden rice — whose failure to launch is the industry’s own failure, the opposition to genetic engineering (and hence golden rice) is very real and successful.

As Glenn Stone, a rice scientist at Washington University, states: “The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, golden rice is still years away from being ready for release.”
Golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty mono-cultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A…’ - Vandana Shiva

It is Borlaug’s Green Revolution monocultures that contributed to malnutrition by destroying biodiversity, which destroys the diversity of nutrients we need to be healthy. As Navdanya research has shown, biodiversity produces more food and nutrition per acre. Borlaug’s ghost is still shaping the industrial agriculture “miracles” based on monocultures of the mind and spin in place of science.

It is now more than 20 years since the “miracle” golden rice began to be promoted as the excuse to allow patents on life.

The last time golden rice was resurrected when Patrick Moore of Allow Golden Rice Now was sent to Asia to push the failed promise. Women of the world organised and responded to Moore — Diverse Women for Diversity issued a declaration on International Women’s Day in 2015 titled Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, not Corporations and GMOs.

Golden rice is genetically engineered rice with two genes from a daffodil and one gene from a bacterium. The resulting GMO rice is said to have a yellow colouring, which is supposed to increase beta-carotene – a precursor of Vitamin A. It has been offered as a potential miracle cure for Vitamin A deficiency for 20 years.

But golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty monocultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A than the biodiversity alternatives that women have to offer. To get your daily requirement of Vitamin A, all you need to eat is one of the following:

Two tablespoons of spinach or cholai (amaranth) leaves or radish leaves
Four tablespoons of mustard or bathua leaves
One tablespoon of coriander chutney
One-and-a-half tablespoon of mint chutney
One carrot
One mango

So, if you want to be four times more efficient than 107 Nobel laureates, just eat a carrot!

Not only do these indigenous alternatives based on women’s knowledge provide more Vitamin A than golden rice ever will, and at a lower cost, but also provide multiple other nutrients.

Our critique of golden rice is that even if it is developed, it will be inferior to the alternatives women have in their hands and minds. Women are being blocked from growing biodiversity and spreading their knowledge to address malnutrition, by rich and powerful men and their corporations who are blind to the richness of the earth and our cultures.

Through their monoculture of the mind, they keep imposing monocultures of failed technologies, blocking the potential of abundance and nourishment. As I wrote in 2000, blindness to biodiversity and women’s knowledge is a blind approach to blindness prevention.

Grain.org concluded in Grains of delusion: Golden rice seen from the ground, way back in 2001: “The best chance of success in fighting Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition is to better use the inexpensive and nutritious foods already available, and in diversifying food production systems in the fields and in the household.

The euphoria created by the Green Revolution greatly stifled research to develop and promote these efforts, and the introduction of golden rice will further compromise them. Golden rice is merely a marketing event. But international and national research agendas will be taken by it.”

The Giddings-Entine-Byrne Nobel PR stunt was timed to coincide with the US Senate vote on the Dark Act — the denial to Americans of the right to know what they eat. With two decades of the GMO experiment failing to control pests and weeds, creating super pests and super weeds instead, there is now an attempt to push through the “next generation” of GMOs — such as “gene drives” for exterminating nutrient-rich species like the amaranth.

Amaranth, a weed to the 107 Nobel laureates, is a richer source of Vitamin A than golden rice has promised it will be, when it grows up. The laureates would have us round up all the Vitamin A we already have in abundance, create deficiencies by exterminating it with RoundUp, and provide golden rice to alleviate the absence of Vitamin A.

Mr Gates is also supporting this failed miracle, as well as the failed communication through the Cornell Alliance for Science. He also funds the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Harvest Plus, the corporate alliance for biofortification.

The corporate-controlled World Food Prize for 2016 has been announced for “Biofortification”. Scientists funded by Mr Gates have been given the prize for inventing an orange sweet potato. But the Maori in New Zealand had developed kumara, orange (beauregard) sweet potato, centuries ago.

Mr Gates is also funding the biopiracy research of James Dale of Queensland, who took the Vitamin A-rich indigenous bananas of Micronesia and declared them to be his invention.

The biopiracy of people’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge is what Mr Gates is funding. The Gates fortification or Nobel fortification, will not nourish people. Fraud is not food.

Dr Vandana Shiva’s article was published in Go to Original – vandanashiva.comSource: TRANSCEND Media Service

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Kenya’s Health Sector Challenges Present the Ideal Setting for Creating Shared Valuehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenyas-health-sector-challenges-present-the-ideal-setting-for-creating-shared-value/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 11:36:53 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Amit Thakker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146495 Siddharth Chatterjee, (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Kenya. Dr. Amit Thakker (@docthakker) is the chairman of Kenya Healthcare Federation. ]]> UNFPA and private sector representatives in Mandera county in Northern Kenya to develop solutions with the community and the county government. Credit: © Ilija Gudnitz Weber

UNFPA and private sector representatives in Mandera county in Northern Kenya to develop solutions with the community and the county government. Credit: © Ilija Gudnitz Weber

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Dr. Amit Thakker
Mandera County, Kenya, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

The increased budgetary allocations to the health sector by county governments point to an acknowledgement not only of the enormous challenges facing the sector, but also of good health as a prerequisite to overall development.

There has never been a better time for partnerships that harness the power of business to drive prosperity by tackling health challenges. The combination of a growing population and preventable infections means that companies with a focus on solving consumer challenges can expect to record impressive profits while at the same time serving a social good.

This is the approach that has brought together several public, private and non-profit partners to reduce illness and deaths among mothers and children in six counties in Kenya. Coordinated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Private Sector Health Partnership (PSHP) is an Every Woman Every Child joint commitment whose other partners include the Kenya Healthcare Federation, Philips, Huawei, Safaricom, MSD, and GSK.

The partnership aims to harnesses the strength, resources and expertise of the private sector, in close collaboration with the Government of Kenya and the six County Governments of Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo, Lamu and Migori. These counties contribute close to 50% of the country’s maternal deaths. ¬

The partnership seeks to significantly improve health outcomes in the counties, while also potentially creating shared value business opportunities, ensuring a sustained engagement that has a social as well as economic return on investment.

With support from the World Economic Forum, PSHP Kenya has built a strong platform to engage with key public and private stakeholders, create political support for the initiative as well as catalyse expertise for design of leapfrogging innovations.

It is not a partnership that is led by any one sector, but a coalition model where all players can see opportunity in line with their individual missions.

The active participation of the county governments and community organisations is helping to tweak technologies to suit local purposes. This approach is working impressively for instance in Mandera where Philips is establishing a Community Life Centre.

The Life centre is a health facility for providing vital primary care to mothers and children as well as a community hub. The local community can buy clean water and sustainable products like smokeless stoves and home solar lighting products, and benefit from solar-powered LED outdoor lighting that illuminates the area at night, improving security and extending daylight hours.

Other players like Safaricom and Huawei have started to pool their unique expertise and services in IT and mobile connectivity to design and test transformational digital health solutions. MSD has announced a USD 1.5 million grant, through its Merck for Mothers initiative, to a new project by JHPIEGO which will engage with the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in Mandera and Migori.

UNFPA has also partnered with the Kenyan innovation incubator Nailab to support young Kenyan entrepreneurs and we have partnered with the First Lady of Kenya, Ms. Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign to bring together government, private sector and the thriving civil society.

The situation in the six counties has in the past contributed to the country’s reputation as a dangerous place for a woman to give birth. Reduction of maternal and child mortality rates are some of the Millennium Development Goal targets that Kenya missed last year. However, it is clear that it is also an opportunity for collective action and a commitment to shared value creation.

In the words of Michael Porter; “for too long have business and society been pitted against each other”. The PSHP is showing the way in how different sectors with separate mission statements can be galvanized to find intersections in solving social problems.

For long, suspicions about the private sector’s motives have created a wedge, preventing social programmes from accessing the knowledge, ideas, capabilities and resources that abound in private companies.

Shared value propositions will enable different sectors to leverage each other’s assets, connections, creativity and expertise to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

We must continue finding new and creative ways to increase collaboration between government, the private sector and non-profits if we hope to reach Sustainable Development Goals.

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Food Safety Issues Rise in Colombohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/food-safety-issues-rise-in-colombo/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 18:50:54 +0000 Editor sunday http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146460 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Aug 8 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

This newspaper’s News Desk has been following up on Public Health issues for some time, and their ongoing reports should raise concerns among Colombo residents, both the affluent, and the not-so, because of the declining standards in the monitoring of food establishments, from the humble ‘buth kades’ to the restaurants of five-star hotels.

There is a lot of debate about the delay in holding Local Government elections and whether the representatives of the country’s Municipalities, Urban Councils and Praadeshiya Sabhas should be elected under the proportional representation system, the old ward system or a combination of the two. There is, however, little debate on how many of these local councils actually work, and do their work.

The News Desk has been concentrating much of its efforts on how the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), the country’s showpiece local council, operates, and especially in an area that directly affects its rate-payers and residents – ensuring food safety.

Only last week, it was discovered that a CMC Public Health Department worker had been admitted to the National Hospital with not only dengue but also with typhoid fever.

In Colombo, the underground water is polluted. Even five-star hotels use underground water to prepare food although under the Municipal Ordinance by-laws, water supply should be from the city mains. Many hotels use underground water to save on their water bill.

The sewer lines in Colombo are overloaded and prone to leaks that pollute the underground water supply. According to those in the know, residents in areas from Colombo Fort to Wellawatte, including those working in and patronising star class hotels in these areas are at risk of water-borne diseases.

Sicknesses such as hepatitis, typhoid, para typhoid, diarrhea and viral stomach ailments knock-on the belly of those affected for days, some getting treatment from General Medical Practitioners (GPs) and others even needing hospitalisation. Only Government hospitals provide statistics to the Epidemiology Unit so the real figures of those affected are not known.

At the bottom of this malaise seems to be major happenings at the Municipality’s Public Health Department with in-fighting, court cases and a privatisation programme in lab reports. These give a foul stench.

There is a need for constant checks on workers in all eating houses, including the bigger hotels, restaurants and even clubs, big and small. Only investigations can find the source of a disease so that preventive action can be taken. Medical examinations of eating houses is compulsory under Municipal by-laws such as the Food Hygiene Regulations, and what use are elections of councillors if they, once elected, do not supervise the implementation of these by-laws when they are practised in the breach.

The Tourism Authority also has regulations governing food safety. Its capacity to check on food relied almost entirely on the investigations carried out by the Municipalities and other local bodies around the country. It has been given this responsibility to protect tourists (tourism being one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners) but what’s the status when these local councils fall on their own responsibilities? Today, private laboratories, with questionable ability are tasked with providing these reports, something the CMC did on its own for more than 40 years, but now side-lined due to petty in-fighting and jealousies.

Most Sri Lankans have an in-built immune mechanism to cope with most germs they have grown up with. What of the unsuspecting tourist for whom an upset stomach can ruin his entire holiday?

The CMC, like many other councils, is no doubt, hard-pressed for human resources, with its Public Health Inspectors battling the dengue menace on the one hand. However, when the CMC’s Microbiological Laboratory, the regulatory arm gazetted by the Ministry of Health, has the professionalism and wherewithal to do the job, it is mind-boggling why its services are not used. As of today, the CMC hardly tests for Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus etc., any more – all food poisons and these are now handled by private labs which have mushroomed only in recent times. The fall-out on the entire food safety monitoring is to be expected.

When the whole country is talking about kidney disease, Creatinine tests for kidney patients, Hemoglobin tests for pregnant mothers, HbA1C for diabetes sufferers – and HIV tests have come to a standstill for the past 4-5 months and Pathological services for the poor heart patients are wanting. These constitute a serious situation. It is well and good to keep asking when the next Local Government elections are. These are mere political exercises. City Fathers (and now Mothers) are a dime a dozen. With the rapid construction boom and hundreds upon hundreds of high rise buildings and apartment blocks coming up, the strain on the water requirements and the corresponding drainage and sewerage capacities has to increase multi-fold.

With problems already existing, is the city ready for this explosion? The system needs fixing at the officials’ level – not the political level so much, before the public health systems completely break down in the capital city and the malaise spreads to the rest of the country, where it is not much different.

Rio: Run the good race

The world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympics, began over the weekend in Brazil, dogged by a host of internal problems and an eagle-eyed press fond of looking for negatives in an economically developing country.

Not that the last Olympics in London was without warts – till it happened. Delays there were aplenty in the preparations, and the British Army had to be called in at the 11th hour to expedite matters. Yet, the hype around Brazil ranging from political unrest to the construction delays to the crime and drugs scene to the Zika virus – and then, the doping scandal surrounding the Russian athletes has been one wet blanket after another thrown over the mega event which most Brazilians and the rest of Latin America were waiting to host.

Not surprisingly, the small Sri Lankan contingent received a ‘fond farewell’ from the Sports Minister and the National Olympic Committee head who have given them all the encouragement by saying; “Sri Lanka has no chance of winning any medals”.

The French news agency AFP ran a story this week on Sri Lanka’s only Olympic medallist in recent times saying how she has been discarded and her talents ignored by the athletics panjandrums over the years. That is how Sri Lanka’s sports administrators are across the board. For now, however; “Let the Games begin”. And the very best wishes to our contingent of nine competitors to keep the flag flying.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Sustainable Development in Africa Will Not Be Achieved Without Women’s Full Participationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/sustainable-development-in-africa-will-not-be-achieved-without-womens-full-participation/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 05:35:16 +0000 Gina Din http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146429 Ms Gina Din, the Founder and CEO of the Gina Din group, is a businesswoman from Kenya specializing in strategic communications and public relations. She was named CNBC outstanding businesswoman of the year for East Africa 2015 as well as 40 most influential voices in Africa.]]> Gina Din visits a UNFPA supported maternal and child health facility in Migori County, Kenya. Photo Credit: Gina Din Group

Gina Din visits a UNFPA supported maternal and child health facility in Migori County, Kenya. Photo Credit: Gina Din Group

By Gina Din
MIGORI COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

In some parts of the world, the proverbial “glass ceiling” is shattering. As Theresa May and, most likely, Hillary Clinton join Angela Merkel at the leadership of three major world powers, women’s leadership in politics is on the ascent.

Unfortunately, improvements in political representation has not been accompanied by improvements in the material conditions of ordinary women’s lives.

As the National Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya, I am well aware of just how far women in Africa still have to go not only in their quest for access to political participation, but also in the fight for the basic rights that will enable them to live healthily and safely. In fact, the advancement of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is key to achieving their full and equal participation in the social, political, and economic realms.

The good news is that this is now a widely accepted truth: the pursuit of gender equality is not just an abstract ideal, but a prerequisite for human progress.

Throughout the world, UNFPA has been working to change the narrative about the role of women. UNFPA’s message has been that the roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined, but socially constructed. This means that these roles are man-made and can be changed when circumstances call for it.

That is why UNFPA is working to change the circumstances of marginalized and vulnerable women such as the four in every ten women in Kenya who report being physically assaulted by people known to them. There is a need to change the circumstances of the nine in ten women in the north eastern parts of Kenya who undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), almost all of whom have never gone to school.

A lack of education severely restricts a woman’s access to information and opportunities. Conversely, increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment benefits both individuals and future generations. Higher levels of women’s education are strongly associated with lower infant mortality and lower fertility, as well as better outcomes for their children.

There is need to give women power over their own bodies; the power to decide who and when to marry, how many children to give birth to and when to do so, the power to stay in school and the opportunity to find employment. When a woman can effectively plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life. Protecting and promoting her reproductive rights – including the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of her children – is essential to ensuring her freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.

In its effort to change mindsets and include women as equal partners at the social and political table, UNFPA Kenya has become a key voice in the national discourse, engaging people across both the public and private sectors and mobilising for more resources to be invested in broad gender equality programmes.

I particularly enjoy working with the UNFPA team led by Siddharth Chatterjee, an indefatigable advocate for women’s rights. His career with the United Nations, in some of the most unstable and risky parts of the world, has exposed him to the suffering that conflicts and disasters bring to communities, with the worst affected always being women and children.

The UNFPA Kenya team has shown the desire for attaining real impact on the challenges that women encounter in their day-to-day lives and – most importantly – empowering them to handle these difficulties on their own.

For instance, as per a report by Deloitte, UNFPA Kenya’s work in 6 high burden counties of Kenya to improve maternal health is bringing real change. I have been humbled to see women in Pokot organize themselves to build a rescue shelter for girls escaping early marriages. I have been amazed at the tenacity of schoolgirls in Baringo who stood firm and convinced their fathers of the harmful effects of FGM. These powerful success stories come out of the activities of UNFPA Kenya, whose leadership has been determined to succeed even in the face of entrenched cultures that deny women any agency.

The task at hand, then, is not to give women strength, but to give society new eyes to perceive the strength that they already possess in abundance.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture for Drought-Stricken Madagascarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/climate-smart-agriculture-for-drought-stricken-madagascar/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 22:55:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146396 As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
AMBOASARY, Madagascar, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Mirantsoa Faniry Rakotomalala is different from most farmers in the Greater South of Madagascar, who are devastated after losing an estimated 80 percent of their crops during the recent May/June harvesting season to the ongoing drought here, said to be the most severe in 35 years.

She lives in Tsarampioke village in Berenty, Amboasary district in the Anosy region, which is one of the three most affected regions, the other two being Androy and Atsimo Andrefana.FAO estimates that a quarter of the population - five million people - live in high risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

“Most farms are dry, but ours has remained green and alive because we dug boreholes which are providing us with water to irrigate,” she told IPS.

Timely interventions have changed her story from that of despair to expectation as she continues harvesting a variety of crops that she is currently growing at her father’s farms.

Some of her sweet potatoes are already on the market.

Rakotomalala was approached by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as one of the most vulnerable people in highly affected districts in the South where at least 80 percent of the villagers are farmers. They were then taken through training and encouraged to diversify their crops since most farmers here tend to favour maize.

“We are 16 in my group, all of us relatives because we all jointly own the land. It is a big land, more than two acres,” she told IPS.

Although their form of irrigation is not sophisticated and involves drip irrigation using containers that hold five to 10 liters of water, it works – and her carrots, onions and cornflowers are flourishing.

“We were focusing on the challenges that have made it difficult for the farmers to withstand the ongoing drought and through simple but effective strategies, the farmers will have enough to eat and sell,” says Patrice Talla, the FAO representative for the four Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius.

Experts such as Philippison Lee, an agronomist monitor working in Androy and Anosy regions, told IPS that the South faces three main challenges – “drought, insecurity as livestock raids grow increasingly common, and locusts.”

FAO estimates that a quarter of the population – five million people – live in high-risk disaster areas exposed to natural hazards and shocks such as droughts, floods and locust invasion.

As an agronomist, Lee studies the numerous ways plants can be cultivated, genetically altered, and utilized even in the face of drastic and devastating weather patterns.

Talla explains that the end goal is for farmers to embrace climate-smart agriculture by diversifying their crops, planting more drought-resistant crops, including cassava and sweet potatoes, and looking for alternative livelihoods such as fishing.

“Madagascar is an island but Malagasy people do not have a fish-eating culture. We are working with other humanitarian agencies who are training villagers on fishing methods as well as supplying them with fishing equipment,” Talla told IPS.

“Madagascar is facing great calamity and in order to boost the agricultural sector, farming must be approached as a broader development agenda,” he added.

He said that the national budgetary allocation – which is less than five percent, way below the recommended 15 percent – needs to be reviewed. The South of Madagascar isalso  characterized by poor infrastructure and market accessibility remains a problem.

According to Talla, the inability of framers to adapt to the changing weather patterns is more of a development issue “because there is a lack of a national vision to drive the agriculture agenda in the South.”

Lee says that farmers lack cooperative structures, “and this denies the farmers bargaining power and they are unable to access credit or subsidies inputs. This has largely been left to humanitarian agencies and it is not sustainable.”

Though FAO is currently working with farmers to form cooperatives and there are pockets of them in various districts in the South including Rakotomalala and her relatives, he says that distance remains an issue.

“You would have to cover so many kilometers before you can encounter a village. Most of the population is scattered across the vast lands and when you find a group, it is often relatives,” he says.

Lee noted that farmers across Africa have grown through cooperatives and this is an issue that needs to be embraced by Malagasy farmers.

Talla says that some strides are being made in the right direction since FAO is working with the government to draft the County Programming Framework which is a five-year programme from 2014 to 2019.

The framework focuses on three components, which are to intensify, diversify and to make the agricultural sector more resilient.

“Only 10 percent of the agricultural potential in the South is being exploited so the target is to diversify by bringing in more crops because most people in the North eat rice and those in the South eat maize,” Talla explained.

The framework will also push for good governance of natural resources through practical laws and policies since most of the existing ones have been overtaken by events.

Talla says that the third and overriding component is resilience, which focuses on building the capacity of communities – not just to climate change but other natural hazards such as the cyclone season common in the South.

“FAO is currently working with the government in formulating a resilience strategy but we are also reaching out to other stakeholders,” he says.

Since irrigation-fed agriculture is almost non-existent and maize requires a lot of water to grow, various stakeholders continue to call for the building of wells to meet the water deficit, although others have dismissed the exercise as expensive and unfeasible.

“We require 25,000 dollars to build one well and chances of finding water are often 50 percent because one in every two wells are not useful,” says Lee.

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New Alliance to Shore Up Food Security Launched in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 17:59:47 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146365 PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

By Desmond Latham
CAPE TOWN, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

As over 20 million sub-Saharan Africans face a shortage of food because of drought and development issues, representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) met in Johannesburg to forge a new parliamentary alliance focusing on food and nutritional security.

Monday’s meeting here came after years of planning that began on the sidelines of the Second International Conference on Nutrition organised by the FAO in late 2014.“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger." -- Dr. Bernadette Lahai

Speaking at the end of the day-long workshop held at the offices of the PAP, its fourth vice president was upbeat about the programme and what she called the “positive energy” shown by attendees.

“We have about 53 countries here in the PAP and the alliance is going to be big,” said Dr. Bernadette Lahai. “At a continental level, once we have launched the alliance formally, we’ll encourage regional parliaments so the whole of Africa will really come together.”

“This will be a very big voice,” she said on the sidelines of the workshop.

FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, said her role was to ensure that parliamentarians take up food security as a central theme.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because based on the evidence that we have in the FAO, is that once you have the laws and policies on food and nutrition security in place there is a positive correlation with the improvement of the indicators of both food and security of nutrition,” she told IPS.

“Last year we facilitated the attendance of seven African parliamentarians to a Latin American and Caribbean meeting in Lima, and these seven requested us to have an interaction with parliamentarians of Africa,” she said.

A small team of officials representing Latin America and the Caribbean had traveled to Johannesburg to provide some details of their own experience working alongside the FAO in an alliance which had focused on providing food security to the hungry in South America and the island nations of the Caribbean.

These included Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador, who told the 20-odd PAP representatives that in her experience working alongside officials from the FAO had helped eradicate hunger in much of the region.

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

Caribbean representative Caesar Saboto of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was also forthright about the opportunities that existed in the developing world to deal with hunger alleviation.

“It’s the first time that I’m traveling to Africa,” he said, “and it’s not for a vacation. It’s for a very important reason. I do not want to go back to the Caribbean and I’m certain that Maria Augusta Calle does not want to go back only to say that we came to give a speech.”

Saboto delivered a short presentation where he outlined how a similar programme to the foundation envisaged by those attending the workshop had drastically reduced hunger in his country.

“In 1995, 20 percent of my country of 110,000 people were undernourished,” he said. “Over 22,000 were food vulnerable. But do you know what? Working with communities and within governments we managed to drive down that number to 5,000 in 2012 or 4.9 percent of the population. And I’m pleased to announce here for the first time, that in 2016 we are looking at a number of 3,500 or 3.2 percent,” he said to applause from the delegates.

PAP members present included representatives of sectors such as agriculture, gender, transport and justice as well as health. Questions from the floor included how well a small island nation’s processes could be used in addressing the needs of vastly larger regions in Africa.

“Any number can be divided,” said Saboto. “First you have to start off with the political will, both government and opposition must buy into the idea. If you have 20 million people you could divide them into workable groups and assign structures for management accountability and transparency,” he said.

African delegates queried the processes which the Latin American nations have used to set up structures in particular.  Dr. Lahai wanted the Latin American delegates to assist the African parliament in planning the foundation.

“Food security is not only a political issue but a developmental issue,” she told IPS in an interview.

“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger,” she said.

But major challenges remain. After a meeting in October last year, the FAO had contracted the PAP with a view to targeting hunger in a new alliance. The PAP is a loose grouping of African nations and members pointed out that they were unable to get nation states to support an initiative without a high-level buy in of their political leadership.

Dr. Lahai was adamant that the workshop should begin addressing issues of structure. She stressed that co-ordination between the PAP, various countries and other groupings such as Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) and SADC (Southern African Development Community) should be considered.

“We need a proper framework,” she said. “It’s important to engage our leaderships in this process. With that in mind, I would suggest that we learn a great deal from our visitors who’ve had a positive experience in tackling nutrition issues in Latin America.”

In an earlier presentation, FAO representative for South Africa Lewis Hove had warned that a lack of access to food and nutrition had created a situation where children whose growth had been stunted by this reality actually were in the most danger of becoming obese later in life. The seeming contradiction was borne out by statistics presented to the group showing low and middle income countries could see their benefit cost ratio climb to 16-1.

Africa’s Nutritional Scorecard published by NEPAD in late 2015 shows that around 58 million children in sub-Saharan regions under the age of five are too short for their age. A further 163 million women and children are anaemic because of a lack of nutrition.

The day ended with an appeal for further training and facilitation to be enabled by the FAO and PAP leadership. With that in mind, the upcoming meeting of Latin American and Caribbean states in Mexico was set as an initial deadline to begin the process of creating a new secretariat. It was hoped that this would prompt those involved in the PAP to push the process forward and it was agreed that a new Secretariat would be instituted to be headquartered at the PAP in South Africa.

Dr Lahai said delegates would now prepare a technical report which would then be signed off at the next round of the PAP set for Egypt later this year.

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There Is No Substitutehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/there-is-no-substitute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=there-is-no-substitute http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/there-is-no-substitute/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:24:08 +0000 Sadrul Hasan Mazumder http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146340 By Sadrul Hasan Mazumder
Aug 1 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

To observe the World Breastfeeding Week, which is marked around the world from August 1-7 since 1992, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has declared this year’s theme to be “Breastfeeding: a key to sustainable development” August 1-7.

Breastfeeding is in many ways linked with nutrition and food security, health, development, survival, and the achievement of full educational potential and economic productivity. Breastfeeding is an environmentally sustainable method of feeding compared to other substitutes. Linking breastfeeding with sustainable development is relevant and inclusive, as it enables the breastfeeding movement to connect with many other development issues over the next fifteen years to create greater impact globally.

This year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN) and Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation (BBF) have organised a series of events at the national and local level, involving a wide range of stakeholders. This includes but is not limited to influencing policy stakes and creating awareness involving government and non-government agencies, which will be inaugurated on August 02, 2016 by the Honourable Minister of the MoHFW as the chief guest.

world_breastfeeding_week_2016

Let’s refresh our memories by looking through the legislative journey which promotes, protects and supports breastfeeding across the globe including Bangladesh. On May 21, 1981, the thirty-fourth world health assembly recalled that breast-feeding is the only natural method of infant feeding and that it must be actively protected and promoted in all countries which had adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which aimed to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breast-feeding, and by ensuring proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through ideal approach of marketing and distribution.

Following the international commitment, the Government of Bangladesh has been the first of the countries to ratify the code and promulgated the Breast-Milk Substitutes (regulation of marketing) Ordinance, 1984, aimed at promoting breast-feeding by regulating marketing of breast-milk substitutes. In continuation, the Ordinance got amended in 1989 with provision of mandatory registration of breast-milk substitute including formation of an advisory committee to oversee compliance issues of International Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes. Abolishing the said Ordinance, Breast Milk Substitutes, Baby Foods, Commercially Manufactured Complementary Baby Foods and its usable Accessories (regulation of marketing) Law 2013 was enacted which aimed at protecting children between zero to five years of age with full embargo on advertisement of breast milk substitutes, baby foods, children’s food supplements and its equipment.

Given the legislative history, if we look at the breastfeeding practice, where the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Statistics (BDHS) shows that 55 percent of infants under age 6 months are exclusively breastfed, which is proportionately lower than the 2011 BDHS reported 64 percent and much lower than the WHO recommended target of 90 percent.

A BRAC study, on the implementation of BMS Law 2013, shows that most important stakeholders such as the doctors, nurses and other health professionals are not aware enough to ensure exclusive breastfeeding. In addition, there is insufficient information about the benefits of breast milk, which has been mountained by social myths, traditional, cultural and superstitious beliefs. The BRAC study also shows that benefits of colostrum feeding were commonly perceived by mothers as the “first vaccination of child” but in practice, mothers often cannot manage to feed colostrum to the newborn baby because of misconception and lack of knowledge. It has been proven that around 95 percent of the caesarean babies are excluded from exclusive breastfeeding as their mothers remain in post-operative care after birth. In addition, many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely, because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express (pump) and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplace to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work, such as six months paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks, can help in this regard.

Breast milk contains all the nutrients needed by children in the first six months of life. Supplementing breast milk before six months is discouraged because it increases the likelihood of contamination, and hence risk of diarrohea. Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests. Not only children, breastfeeding had also benefited mothers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98 percent protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression. Let’s echo with and promote breast milk – the first food the first right on earth.

The writer is Programme Coordinator – Advocacy for Social Change, BRAC and can be reached at sadrul.mazumder@brac.net.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Newly Empowered Black Farmers Ruined by South Africa’s Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/newly-empowered-black-farmers-ruined-by-south-africas-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=newly-empowered-black-farmers-ruined-by-south-africas-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/newly-empowered-black-farmers-ruined-by-south-africas-drought/#comments Sat, 30 Jul 2016 19:52:52 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146324 A programme supporting emerging women small-scale farmers has been hit hard by the drought. Here a crop of peppers and tomatoes at a school farming scheme at Risenga Primary School, in Giyani, Limpopo province, wilts in the sun. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

A programme supporting emerging women small-scale farmers has been hit hard by the drought. Here a crop of peppers and tomatoes at a school farming scheme at Risenga Primary School, in Giyani, Limpopo province, wilts in the sun. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

By Desmond Latham
CAPE TOWN, Jul 30 2016 (IPS)

Almost half a decade of drought across most of South Africa has led to small towns in crisis and food imports for the first time in over 20 years, as well as severely hampering the government’s planned land redistribution programme.

It’s the cost of food in an economic downturn that has been the immediate effect. But hidden from view is a growing social crisis as farmers retrench their workforce and the new class of black commercial farmers has been rocked by the drought. Also hidden from many is the effect on small towns across the north of the country in particular, which are now reporting business closures, growing unemployment and social instability."There’s no food at all, we didn’t even plant in the last season. It’s a cruel twist of fate." -- Thomas Pitso Sekhoto

According to emerging black farmers, the record high temperates and dry conditions of the last few years has led to an upsurge in bankruptcy cases and forced many off their newly redistributed farmland. While some have managed to take out loans to fund the capital-intensive commercial farming requirements, others aren’t so lucky. Even large-scale commercial farmers are now unable to service their debt.

“It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” said African Association of Farmers business development strategist, Thomas Pitso Sekhoto.

“Now it’s going to be worse because of the winter, there’s no food at all, we didn’t even plant in the last season. It’s a cruel twist of fate, it’s affected us badly. Those who bought land for themselves as black farmers, those who took out bonds, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “It’s a serious setback to black farmers in South Africa – there’s no future if things are going to go like this.”

BFAP farming systems analyst Divan van der Westhuizen says these farmers had already been struggling with increased costs and lower production.

“The depreciation of the rand has a strong correlation on the landed price of fertiliser and oil-based products. Year-on-year there’s an increase of 11 percent on fertiliser and 10 percent on fuel,” he said.

“From the drought perspective it’s tough. The North West of the country was affected by drought conditions for the past four to five years, now production is down and costs are up,” said van der Westuizen. “Even if rains fall now, from a cash flow perspective it won’t be sufficient to cover the shortfall.”

Agriculture development specialists say support for the sector has been limited. The largest agricultural organisation in South Africa, AgriSA, has reported that its office has been inundated with calls for drought relief assistance. Over 3,000 emerging farmers (most of whom are black) and nearly 13,000 commercial farmers have received drought assistance.

“More and more highly productive and successful commercial farmers are struggling to make ends meet,” said CEO Omri van Zyl. “We appeal to government for assistance as these farmers have played a crucial role to produce food on a large scale. It’s especially farmers in parts of the Northern Cape, Free State and North West, Eastern Cape and Western Cape that face a severe crisis currently and who are in desperate need for financial assistance” he said.

Government ploughed millions of dollars into a drought relief programme early in 2016. But the support dried up in February. Now Sekhoto said his farm is in the grip of what could be a terminal cycle.

“There’s nothing. I will be honest with you. If you can’t help yourself, you can’t help your neighbour. The only income I had was when I sold my cattle. The banks have closed shop. While the white commercial farmers here have tried to help, they’ve also had to retrench, cut staff.”

Business in small towns in the North West province and parts of the Free State are shuttering with reports that up 20 percent of all small businesses closed their doors in the first quarter of 2016.

While farmers and businesses suffer, South Africa’s urban population has also felt the full effects of the drought. Some towns such as Vryheid in KwaZulu Natal province are using water tankers as their town dam dried up. Food prices have risen exponentially, said Grain SA senior economist Corne Louw.

“Normally, we’re a surplus producer and exporter of maize, but because of the drought we’ve had to import 3.7 million tonnes in the last year,” he said. “Records show that the driest year since 1904 was 2015/16 so it’s breaking records in various areas. If you compare the price of white maize to what it was a year ago, its 35 percent up year-on-year.”

In Limpopo province, an Oxfam and Earthlife Africa community gardening project has found itself facing serious headwinds as the drought continues. Limpopo is one of the provinces that was most severely affected by drought, making it difficult for smallholder farmers to grow and harvest their crops.

“Right now we get water from two boreholes, but it’s not enough to feed the school and the garden,” said Tracy Motshabi, a community gardener at Risenga Primary School, Giyani, Limpopo.

“Because of the drought, our efforts in the gardens are not being seen because of the water scarcity. There is not enough water for irrigation,” said Nosipho Memeza, a Community Working Group (CWG) member at Founders Educare Preschool in Makhaza, Western Cape.

Heavy rainfall was reported in late July 2016 across most of South Africa, but it’s come too late to save many of these small farmers. There may be some relief, however. Meteorologists at WeatherSA believe this year’s rainy season, which begins in December, could be wetter than normal. However, that may be too late for thousands of small farmers in the country.

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Feed the Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/feed-the-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed-the-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/feed-the-children/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:39:25 +0000 Isabel Ongpin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146306 By MA. Isabel Ongpin
Jul 29 2016 (Manila Times)

Hunger still stalks many of our countrymen. It is particularly destructive with our children who, because of poverty, do not get enough to eat, become vulnerable to disease and exploitation and end up unhealthy, uneducated and unhappy. Uneducated because the need to eat superimposes itself over everything, so that all their waking hours are spent looking to satisfy hunger, eschewing going to school. Unhappy because in the long run, without education, there will be a long, hard climb to get a job; most of all, a job that will provide a decent livelihood.

MA. Isabel Ongpin

MA. Isabel Ongpin

Thank goodness to recent-past and present administrations that they have recognized this sad reality and come up with the Conditional Cash Transfer Program that—from reports—is being managed competently and honestly, and is really helping the poorest of the poor.

But there are still many poor children who are hungry, and because of the circumstances of their lives where hunger is a leading factor, do not go to school.

Senator Grace Poe, a presidential candidate in the last elections, had on her campaign platform the establishment of a feeding program for children in the initial and early years of going to school. Recently, Sen. Miguel Zubiri has declared that he will file a bill for a nationwide feeding program in grade schools.

This idea should come to be passed in a law, with a budget so that it will become an established reality in our society.

A feeding program that can provide at least one healthy meal a day for children who go to school will be a boon both for the child and his family as well as for the schools. The feeding program could be a learning experience for the parents (who should be drafted to help prepare it) by giving them a pragmatic example of how to prepare the right ingredients taken from our plant and animal resources that will provide the sustenance, which children need to grow and to study. Providing a meal will keep the children in school and, thus, promote universal education among them.

Some private schools, foundations and other charities are already engaged in feeding programs for children. They provide healthy meals using local ingredients like monggo (mung bean), winged beans, some fish and meat in modest proportions together with rice. And at times fruits like bananas and other available and affordable kinds that are in season.

These meals make a world of difference. They stimulate the children to go to school, keep them from feeling hungry, make them alert to the lessons and activities at hand in the school. They also relieve parents for one meal so they can lessen some stress in their lives.

A nationwide feeding program would be a tremendous leap forward toward millennium goals of education and health. It will be a huge undertaking requiring a large budget, relatively speaking. But it can be done modestly and effectively if managed well. So far, the DSWD, which is handling the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, has been doing a creditable job. Anecdotal evidence shows poverty-stricken families in cities and rural areas getting the monthly subsidy that keeps them alive in health and hope. With its current experience, DSWD can tackle a feeding program in coordination with the Department of Education. Or, the Department of Education with the advice and experience of DSWD on the Conditional Cash Transfer Program can manage the feeding program in the schools. Local government units can be part of this.

If there’s need to be an introduction of a nationwide feeding program by stages, perhaps the first stage should be in Mindanao, where poverty rates and school dropout rates are higher. The evacuation centers should be targeted. The uplands, the coasts and the river deltas, wherever people live, should have feeding programs via the schools. Eventually, the program should expand to the Visayas and Luzon, where they, too, have high poverty rates as in the Cordilleras, the Bicol Region and Eastern Visayas, especially in areas where typhoon Yolanda created death and destruction.

If one observes the few feeding programs that are established in some schools and see the effect on their beneficiaries, one will be convinced that under current poverty and hunger conditions, this is one good, effective and compassionate way to go.

Legislators, please work to achieve what is desperately needed by our hungry children.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Chronic Hunger Lingers in the Midst of Plentyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/chronic-hunger-lingers-in-the-midst-of-plenty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chronic-hunger-lingers-in-the-midst-of-plenty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/chronic-hunger-lingers-in-the-midst-of-plenty/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 23:31:42 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146290 Despite being one of the biggest grain producers of the world, India lags behind on food security with nearly 25 percent of its population going to bed hungry. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Despite being one of the biggest grain producers of the world, India lags behind on food security with nearly 25 percent of its population going to bed hungry. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 28 2016 (IPS)

In a fraught global economic environment, exacerbated by climate change and shrinking resources, ensuring food and nutrition security is a daunting challenge for many nations. India, Asia’s third largest economy and the world’s second most populous nation after China with 1.3 billion people, is no exception.

The World Health Organization defines food security as a situation when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life. The lack of a balanced diet minus essential nutrients results in chronic malnutrition.The global food security challenge is unambiguous: by 2050, the world must feed nine billion people.

According to the Global Hunger Index 2014, India ranks 55 out of the world’s 120 hungriest countries even behind some of its smaller South Asian counterparts like Nepal (rank 44) and Sri Lanka (39).

Despite its self-sufficiency in food availability, and being one of the world’s largest grain producers, about 25 per cent of Indians go to bed without food. Describing malnutrition as India’s silent emergency, a World Bank report says that the rate of malnutrition cases among Indian children is almost five times more than in China, and twice that in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So what are the reasons for India not being able to rise to the challenge of feeding its poor with its own plentiful resources? Experts ascribe many reasons for this deficit. They say the concept of food security is a complex and multi-dimensional one which becomes even more complicated in the context of large and diverse country like India with its overwhelming population and pervasive poverty and malnutrition.

According to Shaleen Jain of Hidayatullah National Law University in India, food security has three broad dimensions — food availability, which encompasses total food production, including imports and buffer stocks maintained in government granaries. Food accessibility- food’s availability or accessibility to each and every person. And thirdly, food affordability- an individual’s capacity to purchase proper, safe, healthy and nutritious food to meet his dietary needs.

Pawan Ahuja, former Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, says India’s problems result mostly from a deeply flawed public distribution system than anything else. “Despite abundant production of grains and vegetables, distribution of food through a corruption-ridden public distribution system prevents the benefits from reaching the poor,” says Ahuja.

There are other challenges which India faces in attaining food security, adds the expert. “Natural calamities like excessive rainfall, accessibility of water for irrigation purpose, drought and soil erosion. Further, lack of improvement in agriculture facilities as well as population explosion have only made matters worse.”

India's agriculture sectors have to bolster productivity by adopting efficient business models and forging public-private partnerships. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s agriculture sectors have to bolster productivity by adopting efficient business models and forging public-private partnerships. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

To grapple with its food security problem, India operates one of the largest food safety nets in the world — the National Food Security Act 2013. India’s Department of Food and Public Distribution, in collaboration with World Food Program, is implementing this scheme which provides a whopping 800 million people (67 percent of the country’s population or 10 percent of the world’s) with subsidised monthly household rations each year. Yet the results of the program have been largely a hit and miss affair, with experts blaming the country’s entrenched corruption in the distribution chain for its inefficacy.

The global food security challenge is unambiguous: by 2050, the world must feed nine billion people. To feed those hungry mouths, the demand for food will be 60 percent greater than it is today. The United Nations has set ending hunger and achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture as the second of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the year 2030.

“To achieve these objectives requires addressing a host of critical issues, from gender parity and ageing demographics to skills development and global warming,” elaborates Sumit Bose, an agriculture economist.

According to the economist, India’s agriculture sectors have to bolster productivity by adopting efficient business models and forging public-private partnerships. Achieving sustainability by addressing greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste are also crucial, he adds.

To work towards greater food security, India is also working in close synergy with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which is not only an implementer of development projects in the country, but also a knowledge partner, adding value to existing technologies and approaches. The agency has helped India take the holistic “seed to plate” approach.

Also being addressed are challenges like livelihoods and access to food by poorer communities, sustainability of water and natural resources and soil health have moved centre stage. The idea, say experts, is to augment India’s multilateral cooperation in areas such as trans-boundary pests and diseases, livestock production, fisheries management, food safety and climate change.

FAO also provides technical assistance and capacity building to enable the transfer of best practices as well as successful lessons from other countries to replicate them to India’s agriculture system. By strengthening the resilience of smallholder farmers, food security can be guaranteed for the planet’s increasingly hungry global population while also whittling down carbon emissions.

“Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and use natural resources wisely,” advises Bose. “It also means reducing food losses before the final product or retail stage through a number of initiatives including better harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure, market mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks.

“India is a long way off from all these goals. The current dispensation would do well to work towards them if it aims to bolster India’s food security and feed its poor.”

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