Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 May 2015 22:47:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Slum-Dwelling Still a Continental Trend in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 22:47:28 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140782 Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Nompumelelo Tshabalala, 41, emerges from her dwarf ‘shack’ made up of rusty metal sheets and falls short of bumping into this reporter as she bends down to avoid knocking her head against the top part of her makeshift door frame.

“This has been my home for the past 16 years and I have lived here with my husband until his death in 2008 and now with my four children still in this two-roomed shack,” she told IPS.

Tshabalala lives in Diepkloof township in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a densely populated informal settlement – a euphemism for slums, where an estimated 15 million of the country’s approximately 52 million people live, according to UN-Habitat, the U.N. agency for human settlements.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe has an estimated 835,000 people living in informal settlements, according to Homeless International, a British non-governmental organisation focusing on urban poverty issues. “Local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs” – Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust

“Slum-dwelling here in Africa has become normal, a trend to live with, which is difficult to combat owing to numerous factors ranging from political corruption to economic inequalities necessitated by the growing gap between the rich and the poor,” Gilbert Nyaningwe, an independent development expert from Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Overall, out of an estimated population of 1.1 billion people, Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, reports UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Worldwide, notes the U.N. agency, the number of slum-dwellers now stands at 863 million and is set to shoot up to 889 million by 2020.

Development agencies in Africa say slum-dwelling remains a continental trend despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goals targets compelling all countries globally to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

According to the United Nations, that 100 million target “was met well in advance of the 2020 deadline”, and in African countries such as Egypt, Libya and Morocco the total number of urban slum dwellers has almost been halved, Tunisia has eradicated them completely, and Ghana, Senegal and Uganda have made steady progress, reducing their slum populations by up to 20 percent.

However, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest rate of “slum incidence” of any major world region, with millions of people living in settlements characterised by some combination of overcrowding, tenuous dwelling structures, and poor or no access to adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Hector Mutharika, a retired economist in late Malawian President Kamuzu Banda’s government, blamed poor service delivery for the increase in slums in Africa.

“The increasing numbers of slum dwellers in Africa is due to poor service delivery here by local authorities which more often than not worry most about filling their pockets from local authorities’ coffers instead of channelling proper housing facilities to poor people, which then pushes homeless individuals into building slum settlements anywhere,” Mutharika told IPS.

For Rwandan civil society activist Otapiya Gundurama, the roots of the problem go far back in time. “Shanty homes in Africa are a result of the continent’s urban infrastructure set up during colonial rule at which time housing and economic diversification were limited, with everything related to urban governance centralised, while towns and cities were established to enhance the lifestyles and interests of a minority,” Gundurama told IPS.

Some opposition politicians in Africa, like Gilbert Dzikiti, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE), see the trend of growing slums here as a result of government failure. “The perpetual rise of slum settlements in Africa testifies to persistent failure by governments here to invest in both rural and urban development,” Dzikiti told IPS.

African civil society leaders blame rising unemployment on the continent for the continuing rise in the number of slums. “Be it in cities or remote areas, slums in Africa are a result of huge numbers of jobless people who hardly have the means to upgrade their own dwellings,” Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

In order to reverse the trend of growing slums across the continent, Shumba said, “local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs.”

African slum-dwellers like South Africa’s Tshabalala accuse city authorities of ignoring the mushrooming of informal settlements for selfish reasons.

“Slums here are sources of cheap labour that keeps the wheels of industry turning, which is why local authorities are not concerned about our living standards because they [local authorities] are getting more and more revenue from firms thriving on our sweat,” Tshabalala told IPS.

Meanwhile, rising slum settlements in Africa are also having a knock-on effect for other development goals in the education and health sectors for example.

“The United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal attainment of primary education for all by the end of this year is certainly set to be missed by a number of countries here in Africa, especially as many of these sprouting slum settlements have no schools to help the children growing in the communities get any education,” a senior official in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

At the same time, “there are often no toilets, no water and no clinics in most slum-dwelling areas here, exposing people to diseases, consequently derailing the MDG of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in informal settlements,” Owen Dliwayo of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Voice of Civil Society Muffled in Post-2015 Negotiations for Better Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:27:14 +0000 Esmee Russell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140761 A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Esmee Russell
LONDON, May 22 2015 (IPS)

In September, the United Nations will agree on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will set development priorities for the next 15 years. The draft goals that have been developed are ambitious – they seek to end poverty and ensure no one is left behind.

Until now, civil society has been engaged in discussions over goals and targets; through national consultations and U.N. hearings. As End Water Poverty (EWP), a global civil society coalition of over 280 organisations worldwide, we campaigned for a post-2015 world where we see the end of inherent systemic inequalities and the full realisation of the human right to water and sanitation.A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

Through these opportunities, Member States heard our call; that water and sanitation is a fundamental aspect of all development and a key priority to address in order to improve our future. Together as a united civil society, we achieved securing a dedicated water and sanitation goal – goal 6 – and welcome this progressive advancement.

However, there is still much work to be done. The only way to make this goal an achievable global reality is to have effective, inclusive indicators that can be monitored. This critical need has not been met.

To date, the discussions around indicators have been led by technical experts behind closed doors, without input from other stakeholders. The voice of civil society has not been heard.

This is despite the United Nations stating the setting of the post-2015 agenda will be fully inclusive of all stakeholders. The time to act is now. Civil society have to stand united to call for a positive future; one that prioritises improving the lives of those most in need.

EWP is calling to ensure that space is created for civil society to be an important contributor in these processes, particularly in the critical stage of developing indicators.

A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

We must hold the U.N. accountable to fulfil its promise that the next development framework will be fully inclusive, as so far, the indicator process is reneging on that promise. Being asked to meetings is not enough; civil society’s participation cannot be tokenistic inclusion.

We are also calling for specific and necessary changes to the draft indicators, to ensure that they are sufficient to truly measure governments’ delivery on their commitments.

Civil society have serious concerns about the current drafts tabled, as they are insufficient to truly measure whether people have access to safe, affordable and equitable water and sanitation.

These draft indicators do not go far enough to ensure the full implementation of the human right to water and sanitation.

This is why EWP member Freshwater Action Network- Mexico (FAN-Mex) will be attending the upcoming informal interactive hearings on the post-2015 development framework held by the U.N. General Assembly from May 26 to 27.

We need to ensure that these processes are fully inclusive of civil society’s voice and that our future agenda is based on a human rights approach; that no one is left behind, and that ending poverty and tacking inherent systemic inequalities are of fundamental priority for our future.

The global crisis of water and sanitation is not caused by scarcity or population size. It is a political crisis, of unequal and unfair distribution determined by money, power and influence. This needs to change.

The two day hearings ahead will see representatives of civil society, major groups and the private sector offered a critical opportunity for deeper engagement in the post-2015 development agenda.

We have to use this opportunity to call for the change we need, to reprioritise the importance of improved access to water and sanitation.

We feel that particularly for goal 6, additional indicators are required which will monitor access to safe and equitable water and sanitation in schools and health centres, and that civil society is involved in the monitoring of the indicators.

For us, it is most critical that indicators will need to be disaggregated. This is to ensure that disparities and inequalities in progress are made visible, to prevent the poorest and most marginalised from being left behind.

EWP will be highlighting that the current draft indicators will not direct government action towards those who need it the most, the vulnerable and marginalised. Therefore, if left as is, they will simply replicate some of the failures of the MDGs.

To reinforce this call and amplify our voice, simultaneously next week EWP members, alongside other civil society representatives, will be attending AfricaSan 4 in Senegal, a cross-continental meeting to assess levels of access to sanitation.

“Governments must work harder to meet their obligations on water and sanitation and improve people’s lives. Africa in particular has a very poor track record in ensuring sufficient access to sanitation; this needs to change to address major inequalities,” Samson Shivaji CEO at Kenya Water and Sanitation CSOs Network (KEWASNET), an EWP member stated.

Civil society must have a voice in setting our future and call to prioritise sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene. We must ensure the human right to water and sanitation is realised for all. There is an urgency to prioritise improving people’s lives, with no one left behind, and the time is now.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-time-to-prioritise-human-rights-for-all-for-current-and-future-generations/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 13:23:26 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140725 Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Requires a Mindset Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:02:53 +0000 Prerna Sodhi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140665 CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

By Prerna Sodhi
NEW DELHI, May 16 2015 (IPS)

“Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, is a slogan that most Indians today associate with the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his first nation-wide campaign launched soon after taking office in 2014.

The call has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter. In fact, it is commonplace to find people calling out “Swachh Bharat” as they toss garbage onto the street.

However, while the campaign may not have brought about the change it was aimed to usher in, a dialogue has started and it is a watershed moment for all those working in this area to capitalise on its momentum.The call for “Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter

The idea of cleaning India up is not new, and neither is the term “Swachh Bharat” which has been used by many in the past and has now been “patented” by Modi. For decades, there has been concern with instilling an awareness of the need for cleanliness among citizens, many of whom even defecate in the open.

The current initiative by the government may address the issue of cleanliness at citizens’ level, but activists in the field of sustainable development argue that it should also cover issues related to water, energy and sewage disposal cleanliness.

Access to clean water is one of the main problems that the country faces. According to a report by UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Agency) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases.

The problem does not appear to lie in the lack of availability of water treatment methods, but rather in the unwillingness of people to adopt these methods.

“From the field, we observed that the lack of adoption of water purification techniques is not due to low awareness levels and it was not even illiteracy, as is often assumed,” said Kavneet Kaur, field manager for Development Alternatives (DA), a social enterprise set up in 1982 to tackle the serious impact of climate change on society and the environment.

“There was an evident lack of effort and prioritisation of safety among people to undertake one or more options consistently that made drinking water safe,” she added.

Most slum dwellers, for example, “opted for methods that did not cost their pocket a penny. Those who did have access to cheaper methods of treatment, like chlorination and solar water disinfection (SODIS), avoided adopting these methods because they were time consuming.”

For the last 30 years, DA, which works primarily in Bundelkhand in central India, has been addressing the behaviour change necessary for people to adopt water treatment methods.

According to Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi, DA Vice President, out of the three interrelated components of water, sanitation and hygiene, “hygiene behaviour has been shown to have the biggest impact on community health.”

However, she notes, “despite its merit as the most cost effective public health intervention, ironically there was no global target to improve hygiene during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era. It has become evident that the MDG framework has fallen short of addressing quality, sustainability and equity issues.”

To date, DA has reached out to 50,000 households and 26 schools through intensive advocacy campaigns in urban villages, offering training on how to adopt safe water treatment methods such as SODIS, boiling, chlorination and sieving, despite meeting strong resistance from the local population.

For example, storing water in a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle exposed to sunlight can kill up to 99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an “innovation” that uses nothing but natural ultraviolet (UV) light to provide safe drinking water for consumption. Water can also be purified by sieving boiled water.

Apart from advocating the adoption of these simple water purification methods, DA has also come up with innovations like the Jal-TARA Water Filter, which removes arsenic, pathogenic bacteria and excess iron from contaminated water, TARA Aqua+ (a sodium hypochlorite solution for purifying water), and TARA Aquacheck Vial, a device that tests for the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Nevertheless, these innovations are not destined to go very far unless there is a major change in the mindset of the Indian people, and this extends to the “Swachh Bharat” campaign, not just in terms of clean water but also of a cleaner environment.

This idea has also been the driving force behind a youth-led social media campaign known as CLEAN-India ‘The City I Want’, launched by SA and now covering ten Indian cities – Mirzapur, Mohali, Vadodara, Alwar, Ambala, Bharatpur, Indore, Nashik, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.

CLEAN-India (where CLEAN stands for Community Led Environment Action Network) is an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers. It has so far mobilised 28 NGOs, 300 schools, 800 teachers and over one million students.

The campaign is flanked by a number of other citizens’ groups such as resident welfare associations, parent forums, local business associations and clubs, which are actively participating in activities for environmental improvement.

“Going forward, it is crucial that civil society organisation practitioners interface with academic institutions in evidence gathering and inform policy-makers and investors in order to create enabling conditions where scalable innovation can flourish,” says Lakshmi.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Let’s Talk Menstruation. Period.http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-talk-menstruation-period/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:28:16 +0000 Chris Williams and Kersti Strandqvist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140647 Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve the SDG targets. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve the SDG targets. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Chris Williams and Kersti Strandqvist
NEW YORK, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Every month, more than two billion women around the world menstruate, and yet the topic is still shrouded by a veil of silence. While some girls celebrate their period as the first step into womanhood, many girls in developing or emerging countries are shocked and ashamed of their monthly cycles.

Recent studies have found that over 70 percent of girls in India had no idea what was happening to them when they started their first period; 50 percent of girls in Iran believe that menstruation is a disease; and over 50 percent of girls in Ethiopia miss between one and four days of school per month due to menstruation.In every country, the veil of silence around menstruation contributes to discrimination that can hold women back in their personal lives and professional careers.

Even in the United States, where menstruation management is taught in schools and girls typically have access to the necessary resources and infrastructure, the topic remains a taboo, preferably not addressed in polite circles. Real-life examples abound.

In March, Instagram twice removed a photo of a fully clothed woman with two visible spots of blood, because it violated their ‘community guidelines.’ In January, tennis star Heather Watson shocked the world by ascribing her Australian open defeat to ‘girl things.’

In every country, the veil of silence around menstruation contributes to discrimination that can hold women back in their personal lives and professional careers.

It is time for the global community to break its silence on menstruation so that women and girls can discuss the topic without shame, and reap the rewards for their health, education and quality of life.

The taboo surrounding menstruation is a barrier to equal participation and opportunities for women. More importantly, this neglect of a woman’s need to manage their menstruation inside and outside the home is a violation of a host of human rights – in many countries, menstruating women are banned from praying, cooking, or sleeping near their family.

Current research shows that menstrual education in every country continues to provide girls with mixed messages; on the one hand it is a normal, natural event, however girls are also taught that it should be hidden.

This taboo on female development has also had unintended consequences for U.S. aid priorities – according to development experts, the U.S. government will remain reluctant to fund education initiatives in developing or emerging countries until there is a proven link between toilets in schools or menstrual management education to an improvement in attendance rates or performance in school.

The countdown has begun to the United Nations release of the Sustainable Development Goals, and women’s empowerment is expected to take center stage as a cross-cutting issue that will lift the development of society as a whole.

Strengthening women’s positions, and giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society is necessary if we are to achieve these targets.

The ambitious goal of ensuring equality for women and girls requires a multi-stakeholder approach, with collaboration from communities, government, U.N. agencies, private sector, academia, NGOs, media and others. It is time for all sectors to work together to ensure that menstruation is far higher on the development agenda.

By leveraging public-private partnerships, a unique combination of funding can ensure that market research from the private sector can efficiently contribute to the effectiveness of aid and investment.

This week, the global movement to break the silence on menstruation comes to the U.S. as Team SCA, an all-women crew of sailors participating in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, docks in Newport, Rhode Island. The team is promoting the message of women’s empowerment.

With support from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a U.N. body dedicated to achieving safe sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable through community-led approaches, Team SCA has participated in several menstrual hygiene management training sessions during the race.

Practical, sustainable change for women and girls can be achieved through research, innovation and education. Governments, community leaders, opinion leaders, and global citizens must speak out to change attitudes, upend customs that restrain menstruating women and girls, and promote basic education about periods.

Menstrual hygiene management is only the beginning but it is a critical first step… we need to break the silence across the female lifecycle, from puberty to menopause to old-age.

Eliminating these taboos is an international responsibility, and an opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, by increasing awareness of this monthly global human rights violation, as well as holding an open and honest discussion about its own taboos.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pregnancy and Childbirth Still Kill Too Many Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 17:01:16 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140632 A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 14 2015 (IPS)

In spite of strides in social progress, Latin America’s maternal mortality rates remain unacceptable, and many of the deaths are avoidable, occurring partly because of neglect of the prescriptions provided by experts: preventive action and health promotion.

Juan Reichenbach, a regionally renowned Argentine expert on maternal and child health, has hands-on experience of the problem with mothers and their infants, as a paediatrician and the national director of Motherhood and Infancy (2008-2009).

“If I had to formulate a simple maxim, I would say: Tell me where you were born and I’ll tell you whether or not you will survive,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“The main agents of change are prevention and promotion,” said Reichenbach, who is now a professor at Universidad Nacional de La Plata, where he is chief resident and supervises junior resident doctors at a children’s hospital.“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America." -- Juan Reichenbach

“In other words, the health of mothers and their children needs to be treated as a fundamental right,” he said.

“Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013,” a United Nations report published in 2014, revealed that the maternal mortality rate fell by 40 percent in Latin America over the stated period.

In spite of this drop in the maternal mortality rate, 9,300 women lost their lives in the region in 2013 due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the report said.

On average, approximately 16 women die every day in Latin America and the Caribbean from maternity-related complications, according to April 2015 figures from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America,” Reichenbach said.

According to Bremen De Mucio, of PAHO’s Latin American Centre for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health (CLAP), “relevant and valuable” progress has been made, but the maternal mortality ratio remains at an “unacceptable” level.

The fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for improving maternal health calls for reducing the 1990 maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the end of 2015, as well as providing universal access to reproductive health.

“Continuing to promote human development is the key. And this goes beyond the health sector alone. Effective work to improve the social determinants of health has more impact than isolated health interventions,” De Mucio told IPS.

Reichenbach, for his part, said: “We will only make progress towards achieving the MDGs by educating people about human dignity and the right to life, which are not quantifiable aims.”

The main risk factors for maternal fatalities in Latin America could be reduced “almost to zero,” according to De Mucio. These risk factors are hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, haemorrhage and infections.

According to PAHO, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among women aged 20 to 34, and half of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, in a region where voluntary termination of pregnancy is illegal in the majority of countries.

“About 700,000 babies are born every year in Argentina, and there are an estimated 500,000 abortions. The number of abortions goes unrecognised and unexamined by the health system, and is the tip of the iceberg of maternal mortality,” Reichenbach said.

He said that 35 percent of maternal deaths in his country are preventable with, for instance, proper monitoring during pregnancy.

• Between 1990 and 2013, Latin American countries reduced maternal mortality by an average of 40 percent, much less than the MDG target of 75 percent by 2015. However, 11 countries managed to reduce the rate by more than the regional average: Uruguay (-67 percent), Peru (-64 percent), Bolivia (-61 percent), Chile and Honduras (-60), Dominican Republic (-57), Guatemala (-49), Mexico (-45), Ecuador (-44), and Brazil and Haiti (-43 percent).

• The countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region are Uruguay (14 per 100,000 live births) and Chile (22 per 100,000 live births).

• The highest maternal mortality rate occurs in Haiti, with 380 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Source: Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division.

Argentina’s national guidelines stipulate at least five health clinic check-ups for low-risk pregnancies, but in practice expectant mothers attend on average “less than 2.5 times, and the first visit is usually delayed. Some women arrive at a public hospital in a critical state when they are seven months pregnant,” Reichenbach said.

“Buying a computerised tomography scanner is not the solution; the real answer lies in adequate living conditions, education, employment, decent housing and access to health services,” he said. “Large maternity hospitals generally only intervene as a last resort to fix things after they have gone seriously wrong.”

In his view, the key is to take action at the primary level of health care, including providing an adequate sanitary environment and inclusion in a health system “that pays attention to patients’ daily problems,” reaches remote locations and conducts door-to-door visits in high-risk areas.

Serious cases should be detected promptly and referred to maternity facilities with essential obstetric and neonatal equipment, such as an operating theatre, blood bank, cardiopulmonary resuscitation apparatus and ambulances equipped to deliver emergency care.

Inter-disciplinary teams are needed where doctors are “just another member of the team,” alongside obstetricians, nurses, social workers and community health workers whose work is “much more closely linked to the local area and to people’s health,” he said.

Reichenbach said an “equitable” distribution of doctors is essential to serve marginalised populations, like indigenous peoples, who are “in the first ranks of the dispossessed,” and intra-regional migrants.

In Argentina, for example, there is one doctor per 80 inhabitants in Buenos Aires, while there is only one per 3,000 people in El Impenetrable, a vast forested region in the northern province of Chaco.

“If health is viewed as a right, it follows that every child, mother, teenager and elderly person – including the most impoverished – must be healthy, and that is not so difficult to achieve,” he said.

Health policies should address issues such as geographical remoteness, lack of infrastructure and cultural factors that prevent the spread of sexual and reproductive education.

“We are talking about pregnancy, but we also have to look at whether the pregnancy is wanted within the family, or whether it is an accident, caused by lack of information or by cultural factors, so that a 30-year-old mother ends up having seven or eight children,” he said.

Ariel Karolinski, a consultant for PAHO in Argentina, told IPS that for the past 20 years “the maternal mortality ratio has remained constant at about 40 per 100,000 live births,” although there are wide internal disparities.

However, between 2010 and 2012, for the first time Argentina achieved a fall in the maternal mortality rate with a “relative reduction of 22 percent,” he said.

Karolinski attributed this to programmes like Plan Nacer and Sumar, which expanded public health coverage for mothers and children and targeted the provinces with the worst health indicators, and to cash transfer schemes for pregnant women that are conditional on attending for prenatal check-ups and getting their children vaccinated.

Within Latin America, similar policies have allowed countries like Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay to reduce their maternal mortality rates by over 60 percent.

De Mucio stressed that in Bolivia and Peru there were “favourable repercussions from a pluricultural focus applied during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.” In Peru, additionally, large numbers of maternity waiting homes for women living far away from health centres have been set up.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, changes in “the law on abortion (available up to the 12th week of gestation since 2012) have contributed to virtually eradicating deaths from this cause,” he said.

However, “it should not be forgotten that the economic boom” has contributed to improving living conditions, a change which is “directly related to the reduction of maternal mortality,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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NGOs Urge Post-2015 Declaration Include Water, Sanitation as Basic Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 15:22:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140611 Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

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

Virtually every major international conference concludes with a “programme of action” (PoA) – described in U.N. jargon as “an outcome document” – preceded by a political declaration where 193 member states religiously pledge to honour their commitments.

But over 620 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a hefty coalition of mostly international water activists, are complaining that a proposed political declaration for the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda is set to marginalise water and sanitation.“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world." -- Meera Karunananthan

The development agenda, along with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is expected to be adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders Sep. 25-27 in New York.

Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project, told IPS that with more than 600 NGOs worldwide urging member states to revise the proposed political declaration, it is clear that water remains a very critical issue for billions of people around the world.

“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world,” she said.

The NGO coalition includes WaterAid, Food and Water Watch, Council of Canadians, Global Water Institute, Earth Law Alliance, Indigenous Rights Centre, Right 2 Water, Church World Service, Mining Working Group, End Water Poverty and Blue Planet Project.

Lucy Prioli of WaterAid told IPS with over 2.5 billion people living without basic sanitation and hundreds of millions more without access to water, it is critical that the human right to both water and sanitation is “placed front and centre in the post-2015 Declaration.”

“The international community will never achieve its ambition of ending world hunger unless it also tackles under-nutrition, which is caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation,” she said.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly recognised water and sanitation as a basic human right back in 2010.

Yet, 40 percent of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation and a quarter of the population lacks access to clean drinking water.

In a 2012 joint report, U.S. intelligence agencies portrayed a grim scenario for the foreseeable future: ethnic conflicts, regional tensions, political instability and even mass killings.

During the next 10 years, however, “many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increased regional tensions,” stated a National Intelligence Estimate.

Karunanthan said the U.N.s proposed post-2015 economic agenda, which includes a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), must not be blind to these predicted conflicts.

It must instead be proactive and safeguard water for the environment and the essential needs of people by explicitly recognising the human right to water and sanitation, she said.

“If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past which led to the staggering failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to meet its targets regarding sanitation, then it is important for the SDGs to be firmly rooted in a human rights -based framework,” she added.

The coalition says it wants to ensure the needs of people and the environment are prioritised in any water resource management strategy promoted within the SDGs.

“The post-2015 development agenda presents an important opportunity to fulfill the commitments made by member states in 2010,” the NGOs say.

The NGO demand builds on the consistent and urgent advocacy done by civil society throughout the post-2015 process regarding the importance of inclusion of the human right to water and sanitation (HRTWS).

The Declaration will be a document of political aspirations overarching the post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs.

A draft of the document is anticipated to be released by the end of this month.

U.N. Member States have stressed the need for an agenda that is “just, equitable, transformative, and people-centered”.

Global water justice groups argue that inclusion of the HRTWS in the post-2015 Declaration is vital to realising this goal.

The proposed SDGs include 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, sustainable management of water and sanitation, and protecting oceans and forests.

The 17 proposed goals, which are currently being fine-tuned, are:

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all; Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels and Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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A Nightmare Comes to a Close in Liberia as MDs Declare It ‘Ebola-Free’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 11:32:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140571 By Lisa Vives
New York, May 12 2015 (IPS)

With no new infections in 42 days, Liberia has been declared free and clear of Ebola by the World Health Organization.

The announcement was made in the emergency command center in Monrovia, a room packed with reporters, aid agencies and dignitaries, including the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah R. Malac. Responses ranged from applause to tears followed by a moment of silence called by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

“At this symbolic juncture, I ask the whole world to remember the 4,608 Liberians who lost their lives, and the many thousands more who endured the horror of fighting the disease,” Johnson-Sirleaf said.

“Let us celebrate, but stay mindful and vigilant,” she said. “Clearly, the events of the last year must never be forgotten.

Then, in an action of physical closeness not seen in many months, she went around the room shaking hands.

It was just over a year – in March 2014 – that the outbreak was confirmed in Liberia. It had traveled swiftly south, from Guinea to Sierra Leone and then Liberia, frightening health officials and world health agencies with its deadly ferocity. In Liberia more than 3,000 Ebola cases were confirmed and more than 4,700 cases were fatal.

But alarm bells had hardly been sounded before the virus reached foreign shores. In July 2014, a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, collapsed and died in Nigeria, leaving 19 people infected and eight dead. Four months later, Thomas Eric Duncan flew into Texas where his symptoms exploded. Sent home with antibiotics, he survived only a short time after re-entering Texas Presbyterian Hospital, where he passed away on Oct. 8.

Less than a year has passed and Liberians have successfully prevented any new infections since the last case was reported on March 20th.

Still, outbreaks persist in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, creating a risk that infected people may cross into Liberia over the region’s exceptionally porous borders.

Meanwhile, writing in FrontpageAfricaonline, Liberians gave thanks to God, the Liberian President, U.S. President Obama and the American people, the European Union, Cuba, China, support from Nigeria and Ghana, the United Nations and other NGOs.

“Liberian people at home and abroad, thanks,” wrote Boima Gbelly, described as self-employed. “If we fought this unknown enemy, certainly we can fight other challenges. Let’s unite and help build a prosperous Liberia in a civil manner.”

“Lord, with you, all things are possible,” wrote Daa Onenokay, of the Liberian diaspora. “We want to extend thanks and sincere appreciation to our international partners for all the help and support which brought relief to Liberia… We hope that the entire Mano River Basin will be Ebola-free soon.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Prepaid Meters Scupper Gains Made in Accessing Water in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/prepaid-meters-scupper-gains-made-in-accessing-water-in-africa/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 17:25:45 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140502 Whether they like it or not, many Africans faced with the possibility of having to access water through prepaid meters have resorted to unprotected and often unclean sources of water because they cannot afford to pay. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Whether they like it or not, many Africans faced with the possibility of having to access water through prepaid meters have resorted to unprotected and often unclean sources of water because they cannot afford to pay. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 8 2015 (IPS)

While many countries appear to have met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, rights activists say that African countries which have taken to installing prepaid water meters have rendered a blow to many poor people, making it hard for them to access water.

“The goal to ensure that everyone has access to clean water here in Africa faces a drawback as a number of African countries have resorted to using prepaid water meters, which certainly bar the poor from accessing the precious liquid,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a Zimbabwean democracy lobby group, told IPS.

Prepaid water meters work in such a way that if a person cannot pay in advance, he or she will be unable to access water.Despite U.N. recognition that water is a human right, international financial institutions such as the World Bank argue that water should be allocated through market mechanisms to allow for full cost recovery from users

As a result, African rights activists like award-winning Terry Mutsvanga from Zimbabwe and other civil society organisations are against the idea of prepaid water meters.

“If one has to pay upfront before accessing water, then it would mean those in most need would be denied access,” Mutsvanga told IPS, adding that water is a global human right.

Mutsvanga was echoing the United Nations General Assembly which, in July 2010, emerged with a binding resolution on the human right to water and sanitation – but for Africa, the human right to water may be far from reality.

Laden with a population of approximately 1.1 billion, Africa’s 300 million people have no access to safe drinking water, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Many rights activists on the continent attribute Africa’s mounting water challenges partly to the advent of prepaid water meters.

“We already have hundreds of millions of people without access to clean water, and imagine the severity of the water challenge if water prepaid meters would reach everyone on the continent,” Mutsvanga said.

Over the years, prepaid water meters have been widely used in African countries like Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland and Tanzania, as well as South Africa, where the meters which were rolled out in 1999 are currently in low-income areas.

Zimbabwe is currently conducting a pilot project aimed at installing the prepaid water meters, in towns and cities to begin with. And the country’s impoverished urban dwellers like 51-year old Tinago Chikasha are in panic mode, fearing the worst may be coming their way.

“Local authorities are pressing ahead with the idea of prepaid water meters, but jobless people like me have no money to make prepayments for water while we already have unpaid water bills running into thousands of dollars, which local authorities say they will deduct through all future water prepayments, meaning we run into the danger of having dry water taps for as long as we owe local authorities,” Chikasha told IPS.

In non-African countries like the United Kingdom, prepaid water meters are no longer being used after they were declared illegal in 1998 for public health reasons.

They were also abandoned in South Africa at one stage following a massive cholera outbreak, but were reintroduced and have replaced previously free communal standpipes in rural townships.

Despite U.N. recognition that water is a human right, international financial institutions such as the World Bank argue that water should be allocated through market mechanisms to allow for full cost recovery from users, and civil society activists like Melusi Khumalo in South Africa blame capitalist tendencies for necessitating the advent of prepaid water meters.

“Prepaid water meters are a result of such negative policies by institutions like the World Bank and they [prepaid water meters] deny water access to those in most need,” Khumalo, who is affiliated to Parktown North Residents’ Association in Johannesburg, told IPS.

In Zimbabwe, Mfundo Mlilo, chief executive officer of Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA), told IPS: “We are vehemently against the prepaid meter project because it will not solve the problems of water delivery, and these prepaid water meters will not lead to residents receiving adequate safe and clean water, while the same prepaid water meters will also not lead to increase in revenue flows as the City [of Harare] claims.”

Last month, Harare’s Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi was reported by Zimbabwe’s Weekend Post as saying: “With these meters we expect roughly to save about 20-30 percent of the current costs we are incurring.”

According to Mahachi, at least 300 000 households in the Zimbabwean capital are scheduled to have prepaid water meters installed, while all new housing projects will be obliged to install meters.

Meanwhile, with prepaid water meters set to rake in big money for some of Africa’s local authorities, there are those like Nathan Jamela, an urban dweller in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, who fear the health consequences.

“We experienced the worst cholera outbreak in 2008, and we fear that if prepaid water meters are installed in every household here we will slide back to the crisis, with many people unable to afford to pay for water,” Jamela told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The Biggest Lessons Nepal Will Take Away From This Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 15:56:24 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140496 Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

There has never been any doubt that Nepal is sitting on one of the most seismically active areas in South Asia. The fact that, when the big one struck, damages and deaths would be catastrophic has been known for years.

Indeed, when this correspondent visited Nepal several years ago, and found himself climbing up the narrow, winding stairwell of the Nepal Red Cross Society office in Kathmandu, a poster on one of the doors demanded a close read: “Kathmandu Valley is most vulnerable during an earthquake,” the sign said.

"[This] is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking." -- Orla Fagan, regional media officer at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Bangkok
“One study has shown than in case of an earthquake, 40,000 people may die, 95,000 persons may be seriously injured and 60 percent of houses will be totally destroyed.”

Looking out of the window at the densely populated hillsides, dotted with three-storey concrete structures hugging each other in the jam-packed metropolis, it was clear the warnings were not hyperbolic.

Little over a month before the massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Nepal’s minister for foreign affairs, warned the world yet again of what was to come.

“It is […] estimated that the human losses in the Kathmandu Valley alone, should there be a major seismic event, will be catastrophic,” he told the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.

Horrifyingly, his words were prophetic of the tragedy that unfolded not long after.

Caught off guard

Less than two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude quake rippled through Nepal, close to 8,000 people have been pronounced dead, while hundreds are still missing. Families wait for news, while officials wait for their worst fears to be confirmed: that the death toll will likely climb higher in the coming days.

Over 17,500 people are injured, and ten hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

An estimated eight million people, largely in the country’s Western and Central Regions, have been affected by the disaster – representing over a quarter of Nepal’s population of over 27 million people.

The largest cities, such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, have been badly hit; within 72 hours of the quake, over half a million fled Kathmandu to outlying areas.

Despite ample evidence of the damage a disaster of this scale could wreak on the country, Nepal was in many ways caught unawares, and is now struggling to meet the challenges of providing for a beleaguered and petrified population, who weathered numerous aftershocks in the week following the major quake.

Scores of families are still living in tents, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an urgent funding appeal for the estimated 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid.

With so many hospitals destroyed, doctors have resorted to treating patients in the street. The U.N. health agency has allocated 1.1 million dollars for medical staff and supplies and has so far treated 50,000 patients in the 14 most severely affected districts.

‘Resources woefully lacking’

But there is a limit to what aid agencies and donor countries can do, and eventually the government will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the recovery effort: something experts feel Nepal is unprepared for.

“It is a massive relief operation, probably the largest in this region that we have launched,” Orla Fagan, regional media officer at OCHA’s office in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS.

The long-term reconstruction bill could be as high as five billion dollars, while U.N. agencies said last week that they need at least 415 million dollars for more immediate efforts over the next three months.

Fagan said that because the threat levels were known, some degree of coordination and disaster preparedness work was being carried out in the Himalayan country prior to the disaster, mostly relating to training and building awareness.

“There was coordination between the government and U.N. agencies, but it was on a very small scale,” she said, adding, “You need to understand that this is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking.”

Nepal is considered a Least Developed Country (LDC) and currently ranks 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is also saddled with massive debt – over 3.8 billion dollars owed to donors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – and funneled over 217 million dollars into debt repayments last year, money that might have been better spent shoring up its disaster preparation and management systems.

Fagan explained that the main gaps in disaster preparedness levels were in information management, with the government failing to collect data gathered by various actors into a cohesive national data bank. The country was also lacking a tried and tested national blueprint on early response and coordination of relief efforts.

A little known fact is that despite the very real threats of earthquakes, heavy rains, landslides and glacial lake outbursts, Nepal’s disaster response policies are governed by the over three-decades-old 1982 Natural Calamities Relief Act.

Though a 2008 draft act envisaged a National Disaster Management Authority, it is yet to be ratified by parliament.

“The hope now is that with all the international resources and goodwill pouring in, Nepal can build a stronger national disaster preparedness policy and mechanism,” Fagan said.

Learning lessons from the region

Regional disaster experts agree with that assessment.

“First the funds need to be used for recovery interventions,” explained N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok. “But a part of the funds should be used to develop a road map for a disaster resilient Nepal.

“The document would also identify the roles and responsibilities [of various government agencies] in implementation, ensuring that the government initiates a long-term plan for disaster risk reduction with the support of the development community,” the expert told IPS.

Such a document would specify which branches would issue warnings, which would disseminate them and which would be in charge of evacuations, for instance.

Arambepola also believes Nepal could learn a thing or two from its neighbors, no strangers to natural disasters.

“Nepal should take the example of other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to develop policy [and] legal frameworks and an institutional set-up for disaster risk reduction,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka in particular presents an excellent case study, since it was just ten years ago that the country was caught in a similar crisis, completely at a loss to deal with the devastating impact of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Whereas Nepal at least has been aware of the earthquake threat in its densely populated cities for many years, Sri Lanka had no idea that its coast – home to 50 percent of the country’s 20 million people – was in such grave danger.

It found out the hard way on Dec. 24 when the killer waves knocked the stuffing out of three percent of its population, leaving 35,000 dead, over a million destitute, and a reconstruction bill of three billion dollars.

The country’s former secretary to the ministry of disaster management, S M Mohamed, described the tsunami as an “eye-opener”, sparking efforts at both government and civil society levels to ensure that the country would never again be caught off guard.

While the road to stronger management and preparedness has by no means been a smooth one, Sri Lanka has nevertheless made great strides since that fateful day, including setting up the country’s first-ever Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

In the last decade the DMC has evolved into the main national hub for disaster preparedness levels as well as becoming the nodal public agency for relief coordination and early warnings in the event of a natural calamity.

It has district offices in all 25 districts with personnel ready at any time for immediate deployment. In April 2012, the DMC was instrumental in efficiently evacuating over a million people from the coast, due to a tsunami threat.

“The Sri Lankan operation grew from scratch, and now it’s at a somewhat effective level, [though] there are still gaps. Disaster resilience is more about lessons learnt by trial and error,” DMC Additional Director Sarath Lal Kumara told IPS.

Although Nepal’s challenges are unique compared to some of the worst disasters in the region’s history – with 600,000 flattened houses after the quake, compared to Sri Lanka’s 100,000 following the tsunami, for instance – it still stands to take away valuable lessons, that will hopefully prevent unnecessary damages and loss of life in the case of future catastrophes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Urban Slums a Death Trap for Poor Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 18:08:55 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140465 Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 2015 (IPS)

It’s called the urban survival gap – fuelled by the growing inequality between rich and poor in both developing and developed countries – and it literally determines whether millions of infants will live or die before their fifth birthday.

Save the Children’s annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers 2015 ranks 179 countries and concludes that that “for babies born in the big city, it’s the survival of the richest.”

Speaking from the launch at U.N. Headquarters, Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said that for the first time in history, more families are moving into cities to give their children a better life. But this shift from a rural to an urban society has increased disparities within cities.

“Our report reveals a devastating child survival divide between the haves and have-nots, telling a tale of two cities among urban communities around the world, including the United States,” Miles added.

The document estimates that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050 the concentration of people in cities will increase to 66 percent, especially in Asia and Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges and along railroad tracks.

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

While women living in cities may have easier access to primary health care, including hospitals, many governments have been unable to keep up with this rapid urban growth. One-third of all urban residents – over 860 million people – live in slums where they face lack of clean water and sanitation, alongside rampant malnutrition.

Miles said that despite the progress made on reducing urban under-five mortality around the world, the survival divide between rich and poor children in cities is growing even faster than that of poor children in rural areas.

In most of the developing nations surveyed, children living at the bottom 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder are twice as likely to die as children in the richest 20 percent, and in some cities, the disparity is much higher.

Robert Clay, vice president of the health and nutrition at Save the Children, explained that urban poor are more transient, as they tend to have unsteady jobs and living situations. In rural areas, many people at least have land and food, and a stronger support system within the community.

“In urban areas this doesn’t exist. Urban cities are overcrowded by many ethnic groups living side by side so it’s a bit harder to bond, communicate and build trust. It’s the hidden population that is more problematic to reach,” Clay told IPS.

He said lack of data makes it harder for charities like Save the Children, or national and municipal governments, to access these marginalised communities.

The 10 developing countries with the largest child survival divide are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, India, Madagascar, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda and Vietnam.

Among the 10 worst wealthy capital cities for child survival, out of the 25 studied, Washington D.C. (U.S.) was number one, followed by Vienna (Austria), Bern (Switzerland), Warsaw (Poland), and Athens (Greece).

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

By looking at the mother’s index rankings of 2015, based on five criteria – maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, economic status and women political status, Save the Children says that conditions for mothers and their children in the 10 bottom-ranked countries – all but two of them in West and Central Africa – are dramatic, as nations struggle to provide the basic infrastructure for the health and wellness of their citizens.

“On average, in these countries one woman out of 30 dies from pregnancy-related causes, and one child out of eight dies before his or her fifth birthday,” Miles said.

Globally, under-five mortality rates have declined, from 90 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, these numbers, says the organisation, mask the fact that child survival is strictly linked to family wealth, and miss addressing the conditions of poverty and unhealthy life of slums.  

Positively, the report has also uncovered some successful solutions found by governments to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and close the inequality gap between rich and poor children in their own countries. The most successful countries are Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Egypt (Cairo), Guatemala (Guatemala City), Uganda (Kampala), Philippines (Manila) and Cambodia (Phnom Penh).

“Ethiopia, which recently had accelerated economic growth, managed to develop effective targeting policies, and provided accessible preventive and curative health care for poor mothers and children,” Clay said.

“[Ethiopia] should be a blueprint for other countries, which should bring access to communities in slums so that local people are not left behind,” he underlined, adding that hiring urban outreach workers who can go into the communities, speak the language of the people living there and understand their conditions and needs is vital.

Save the Children is calling on national governments worldwide to find new policies and plans to invest in a universal maternal and infant health care, develop cross-sectoral urban plans, and reduce urban disadvantages, and to increase the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 development agenda, concluded Miles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Healthy Diets for Healthy Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:21:49 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140410

In this column, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), writes that in the last 50 years life expectancy has increased almost everywhere but has been accompanied by a rise in so-called non-communicable diseases which are increasingly causing deaths worldwide. The author says that much of the increase can be attributed to unhealthy diets, and takes the diets of Japan and the Mediterranean area as examples to follow for achieving higher life expectancy.

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the last half-century, people’s lifestyles have changed dramatically. Life expectancy has risen almost everywhere, but this has been accompanied by an increase of so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes – causing more and more deaths in all corners of the world.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

My distinguished colleague Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called the worldwide rise of NCDs a “slow-motion catastrophe”. If NCDs were once considered the scourge of the developed world, this is no longer true; they now disproportionally affect low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of NCD deaths – 28 million per year – occur.

Much of the rise of NCDs can be attributed to unhealthy diets. WHO estimates that 2.7 million deaths every year are attributable to diets low in fruits and vegetables. Globally unhealthy diets are estimated to cause about 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer, 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease, and 11 percent of strokes, thus making diet-related NCDs one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.

In other words, diet determines health – just as bad diets can lead to disease, healthy diets can contribute to good health.

But what exactly is a healthy diet? This is a difficult question. Generally, a healthy diet must provide the right nutrients in the right balance and with sufficient diversity, limiting the intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy requirements, and keeping salt intake to less than 5 grams per day.“There is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences”

However, there is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences. For over 20 years, FAO, together with WHO, has worked with governments on national Food-Based Dietary Guidelines: short, science-based, tips on healthy eating, in accordance with local values, customs and tradition.

Healthy meals do not always taste or look the same. Take, for example, the Mediterranean and Japanese diets: very healthy and completely different.

The Mediterranean diet revolves around the consumption of legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, and moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt). It emphasises unprocessed, plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to the consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and other seeds; olive oil is the main source of (unsaturated) fat.

Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is often associated with sushi (raw fish with rice), and sashimi (fresh raw seafood). The Japanese diet emphasises at least seven ingredients: fish as a major source of protein; vegetables including daikon radish and sea vegetables; rice; soya (tofu, miso, soya sauce); noodles; fruit; and tea (preferably green).

The Japanese and Mediterranean diets are examples of healthy diets. They use a great variety of ingredients; they are rich in plant foods including vegetables and fruit, legumes and fibres; they are modest in red meat; and they utilise many natural herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour food.

Both diets are linked to peoples and cultures as much as to their natural environment: it therefore comes as no surprise that both the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet have made it onto UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The health benefits of the Japanese and Mediterranean diets are promising. Japanese enjoy one of the longest average life spans in the world – 87 years for women and 80 for men. In Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain, women have a life expectancy of 85 years. The figure for Italian men is 80 years, the same as their Japanese counterparts. All of them are above the average of high-income countries: 82 years for women and 76 years for men.

Medical research also indicate that that the Japanese diet leads to the lowest prevalence in the world of obesity – only 2.9% for Japanese women – and other chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart ailments and some cancers. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet, if followed for a number of years, is known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In sum, adhering to a healthy diet helps you to not only to live longer, but also to have a better quality of life. Conversely, a bad diet causes malnutrition and can expose you to a range of NCDs.

A modern paradox is that many countries – including developing countries – suffer from undernourishment on the one hand, and obesity and diet-related diseases on the other. And while FAO’s chief concern is to eradicate hunger in this world, we cannot separate food security from nutrition. FAO – together with our U.N. agencies – considers food and nutrition security a basic human right.

In all cases, the cost of malnutrition goes beyond the health of the individual: it affects society as a whole in terms of public health costs and loss of productivity, and, therefore, is an issue that must be addressed through public and coordinated action.

Last year’s Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), organised jointly by FAO and WHO, sent a clear message in that direction. The two outcome documents of ICN2, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action that commit world leaders to establishing national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and making nutritious diets available to all.

A key message from ICN2 is: governments have a central role to play in creating a healthy food environment to enable people to adopt healthy dietary practices. Yes, it is consumers who choose what to eat, but it is the government’s role to provide the enabling environment that encourages and makes healthy choices possible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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As Ebola Approaches Zero, Immunisation Gets a Boost in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 12:42:05 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140437 A baby cries in his mother’s lap while being inoculated against measles by Vaccinator Joseph Kamara, at Tagweh Town Community Clinic in Bomi County, Liberia. Credit: UNICEF

A baby cries in his mother’s lap while being inoculated against measles by Vaccinator Joseph Kamara, at Tagweh Town Community Clinic in Bomi County, Liberia. Credit: UNICEF

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
DAKAR, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia work to end Ebola, critical healthcare services damaged by the epidemic are beginning to be revitalised.

Supported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the three countries worst-hit by the disease have begun a campaign to immunise three million children against preventable illnesses like measles and polio.“UNICEF trained a former Ebola sensitisation team to go door-to-door explaining to parents that the vaccinations for measles were safe, essential, and not related to Ebola in any way." -- Tim Irwin

The launch of the campaign coincided with World Immunization Week, which ran Apr. 24 to 30. In Guinea, the World Bank has provided funding, whilst in Sierra Leone, funding has come from the Canadian International Development Agency, the European Union and the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Speaking to IPS about the relevance of the campaign, UNICEF West Africa spokesperson Tim Irwin said, “The focus is still very much on getting to zero cases of Ebola, but the reduction in the number of cases has allowed for the resumption of some interventions.

“Immunisations have restarted and UNICEF and partners have supported the governments in the reopening of schools.”

At the end of March, the World Health Organisation said “in light of the decline in Ebola cases, it is urgent to focus efforts on restarting and intensifying immunization activities.”

Currently, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks outweighs the risk of increased Ebola virus transmission.

In Liberia, a campaign to provide measles and polio vaccinations to over 700,000 children under five years old is planned for May 8-14. There, measles vaccination rates were adversely affected due to the impact of Ebola on the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

Little more than half of children aged under one year received measles vaccines in 2014. Before the epidemic in 2013, measles coverage was 89 percent, while in 2014 it fell to 58 percent.

Meanwhile, Ebola had a significant impact on Sierra Leone’s vaccination regime, with routine vaccinations decreasing by 17 percent during the epidemic. Since the start of 2015, 21 laboratory confirmed cases of measles have been reported. In May, an immunisation drive for 1.5 million children under five will cover measles and polio.

In Guinea, where a measles outbreak was declared in early 2014 – prior to Ebola – the number of confirmed measles cases increased almost fourfold, from 59 between January and December 2013 to 215 for the same period in 2014, according to WHO. There are currently some 1265 suspected cases of measles in Guinea.

Irwin told IPS that in Guinea, one significant challenge is communicating the safety and importance of vaccines to sections of the population which remain sceptical, and in some cases concerned that vaccinations could be connected with Ebola.

“The second phase of measles vaccination campaign was launched in Forest Region which is still recovering from the psychological trauma of the Ebola outbreak,” Irwin said.

“While there hasn’t been a case that region for months, the UNICEF team and partners took the initiative to conduct a social mobilisation campaign ahead of the vaccinations to ensure that the turnout would be as high as possible.”

Health professionals remain vigilant for cases of Ebola, and are required to wear gloves when vaccinating – a practice not routinely required for administering injectable vaccinations in normal conditions.

As part of the community-sensitisation campaign in Guinea, UNICEF has been conducting door-to-door visits to discuss vaccinations with parents.

“UNICEF trained a former Ebola sensitisation team to go door-to-door explaining to parents that the vaccinations for measles were safe, essential, and not related to Ebola in any way,” said Irwin.

UNICEF health specialist Dr. Rene Ehounou Ekpini told IPS that Ebola had highlighted serious problems in Guinea’s health system. “Firstly, it’s a problem of poor distribution, with most health workers in the capital. At the second level, it’s an infrastructure issue.

“It’s important to restore confidence in the health system,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140421 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Unsafe Abortions Continue to Plague Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 11:43:33 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140427 By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, May 2 2015 (IPS)

She is just 14, but Janida avoids eye contact with others, preferring to look down at the ground and nodding her head if someone tries to engage her in conversation.

Janida (not her real name) was once a sociable and playful child, but that was before she was sexually abused by her stepfather and giving birth to a baby who is now four months old.

Her days marked by trauma and depression, Janida is just one of many girl children in Kenya who have been abused and robbed of their childhood, leaving them emotionally scarred.

“The little girl [Janida] underwent both physical and mental torture,” Teresa Omondi, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Programmes at the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya, told IPS. ”Her best option was to terminate the pregnancy rather than suffer the mental and physical torture, but she could not afford the cost of a safe abortion.”Many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common” – Teresa Omondi, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya

Under Article 26 (4) of the Kenyan constitution, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”

In September 2010, Kenya’s Ministry of Health released national guidelines on the medical management of rape or sexual violence – guidelines that allow for termination of pregnancy as an option in the case of conception, but require psychiatric evaluation and recommendation.

Then, in September 2012, the health ministry released standards and guidelines on the prevention and management of unsafe abortions to the extent allowed by Kenyan law, only to withdraw them three months later under unclear circumstances.

According to Omondi, “the law has not yet been fully put into operation and many providers have not been trained to provide safe abortion, meaning many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common.”

The health ministry is responsible for doctors and nurses not being permitted to be trained on providing safe abortion, said Omondi, so “it is ridiculous that while Kenya’s Ministry of Health accepts that post-abortion care is a public health issue regarding numbers, practitioners have their hands tied.”

The issue of unsafe abortions in Kenya hit the headlines in September last year, when Jackson Namunya Tali, a 41-year-old nurse, was sentenced to death by the high court in Nairobi for murder, after the death of both Christine Atieno and her unborn baby in a botched illegal abortion.

Various inter-African meetings attended by Kenya have been held on reducing maternal mortality rates by providing safe abortions, with health ministers agreeing that statistics show that countries that do provide safe abortions have reduced their maternal mortality rates.

In a recent analysis, Saoyo Tabitha Griffith, Reproductive Health Rights Officer at FIDA and an advocate at the High Court of Kenya, said that despite Kenya having adopted a Constitution that affirms among others, women’s rights to reproductive health and access to safe abortion, Kenyan women continue to die from unsafe abortion – a preventable cause of maternal mortality.

For Dr Ong’ech John, a health specialist in Nairobi, perforated uteruses and intestines, heart and kidney failures, anaemia requiring blood transfusion as well as renal problems are just a few of the health complications arising from an abortion that goes wrong.

“Unsafe abortion complications are not just about removal of the products of conception that were not completely removed. One can evacuate but the perforated uterus has to be repaired, or you remove the uterus and it is rotten,” Dr Ong’ech told IPS.

“When the health ministry issued a directive in February this year instructing all health workers, whether from public, private or faith-based organisations, not to participate in any training on safe abortion practices and the use of the medication abortion, many questions were left unanswered,” said Omondi.

A highly respected Kenyan doctor, Dr John Nyamu, spent one year in prison in 2004 after his clinic was raided following the discovery of 15 foetuses on major roads together with planted documents from a hospital he had worked for but had since closed.

Speaking of his ordeal with Mary Fjerstand, a senior clinical advisor at Ipas, a global non-governmental organisation dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion, Nyamu said that the publicity surrounding his imprisonment helped people to “realise the magnitude and consequences of unsafe abortion in Kenya; women were dying in great numbers. Before that, abortion was never spoken of in public.”

He went on to say that Kenya wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality, but that “it can’t be achieved if safe abortion is not available.”

A May 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) updated fact sheet indicates that every day, approximately 800 women die worldwide from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99 percent of all maternal deaths occurring in developing countries.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Draconian Ban on Abortion in El Salvador Targeted by Global Campaignhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140406 One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women.

Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent to jail for supposedly undergoing illegal abortions.

There are currently 15 women in prison who were sentenced for alleged abortions after reported miscarriages. At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortions between 2000 and 2011, according to local organisations.

The campaign by Amnesty International and local human rights groups collected 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding a modification of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.

This Central American country of 6.3 million people is one of the few nations in the world to ban abortion under any circumstances and penalise it with heavy jail terms.

The campaign was launched when a woman was freed by an appeals court. She had been found guilty of homicide and spent 15 months in prison.

Carmelina Pérez wept tears of joy when a judge declared her innocent on Apr. 23, after a hearing in a court in the eastern city of La Unión, the capital of the department of the same name.

“I’m happy, because I will be back with my son and with my family, free,” a still-handcuffed Pérez told IPS. She has a three-year-old son in her native Honduras.

Pérez, 21, was working as a domestic employee in the town of Concepción de Oriente, in La Unión, when she suffered a miscarriage. She ended up sentenced in June 2014 to 30 years in prison for homicide – a sentence that was overturned on appeal.

Of the 17 women imprisoned in similar cases since 1998, 15 are still in prison.

That was the year the legislature modified the penal code to make abortion illegal under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is deformed or unviable, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Article 1 of the Salvadoran constitution was amended in January 1999 to protect the right to life from the moment of conception, making it even more difficult to reform the ban on abortion.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez, 25, was another one of the 17 women imprisoned, who are referred to by rights groups as “Las 17”. She had been sentenced to 25 years after being raped and suffering a miscarriage. She spent seven years in prison but was pardoned by the legislature in January 2015, after the Supreme Court recognised prosecutorial errors in her trial.

And in November 2014, 47-year-old Mirna Ramírez was released after serving out her 12-year sentence.

At least five other women have been accused and are in prison awaiting final sentencing.

Most of these women sought medical care in public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or stillbirths, but were reported by hospital staff fearful of being accused of practicing abortions. Many were handcuffed to the hospital bed and sent to prison directly, under police custody.

“The total ban on abortion is a violation of the human rights of girls and women in El Salvador, such as the rights to health, life and justice,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said at an Apr. 22 forum in San Salvador.

Guevara added that El Salvador’s law on abortion “criminalises the country’s poorest women.”

Although there are no recent figures, a 2013 study carried out by the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) found that 129 women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011.

Of this total, 49 were convicted – 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide in different degrees. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office argued that the fetuses were born alive and the mother was responsible for their death.

Of the 129 women accused, seven percent were illiterate, 40 percent had only a primary school education, 11.6 percent had a high school education and just 4.6 had made it to the university. And 51.1 percent of the accused had no income while 31.7 had small incomes.

In El Salvador, it is no secret that middle- and upper-class women have access to safe abortions in private clinics, and are neither reported by the doctors nor arrested and charged.

In its petition to modify the ban, Amnesty International demanded that El Salvador ensure access to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape or incest, where the woman’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is malformed or unlikely to survive.

Only the Vatican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Surinam and Chile have total bans on abortion, although in Chile the legislature is studying a bill that would legalise therapeutic abortion (under the previously listed circumstances).

Delegates from Amnesty International, the Agrupación Ciudadana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights met on Apr. 22 with representatives of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, to demand a reform of the law and deliver the 300,000 signatures.

They also met with the presidents of the legislature and judiciary.

“There is at least a willingness to talk, we see a certain openness,” activist Paula Ávila with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organisation based in the United States, told IPS.

Ávila added that as women who have suffered these cases increasingly speak out and tell their stories, the state will have to accept the need to sit down and talk.

The Center, along with the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, demanded a response from the Salvadoran state to a communication sent on Apr. 20 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) urging the state to recognise its responsibility in the death of “Manuela”.

Manuela – who never allowed her real name to be revealed – had a stillbirth, was erroneously accused of having an abortion, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was later discovered that she had lymphatic cancer, a disease that can cause miscarriages. She died in prison in 2010 without being treated for her cancer.

The IACHR has accepted the case and has given the Salvadoran state three months to respond with regard to its responsibility for her death.

The debate on the flexibilisation of the total ban on abortion is marked by the “machismo” of Salvadoran society and moralistic and religious overtones, with heavy pressure from Catholic Church leaders and evangelical churches that stands in the way of political changes.

But the release of Carmelina Pérez in La Unión has given rise to hope in similar cases.

For the first time, an appeals court judge dismissed the statement of the gynecologist who testified against the defendant. That decision was key in overturning her conviction.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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