Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:20:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Europe to Decide on Use of Mercury in Dentistryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 07:25:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148108 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Europe will soon decide the future of a common but controversial dental practice: mercury in tooth fillings.

Three major European institutions, namely the European Commission, Parliament and Council, are due to meet on 6 December to discuss regulations on mercury, particularly its use in dentistry.

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury makes up 50 percent of amalgam, which is commonly used for dental fillings. Europe is currently the world’s largest amalgam user.

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organisations launched a global campaign in July to end the use of mercury in dentistry, citing health and environmental risks.

“Mercury is globally one of the 10 chemicals of major public health concern, yet the Commission proposes we maintain the status quo,” said Health Care Without Harm Europe’s Chemicals Policy Advisor Philippe Vandendaele

Amalgam is often the largest source of mercury releases in municipal wastewater and is also an increasing source of mercury air pollution from crematoria.

Mercury entering water bodies can contaminate fish and other animals, further exposing consumers to dangerous levels of secondary poisoning.

Though direct health risks from amalgam are still uncertain, mercury is known to cause damage to the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses, infants and young children.

As a result, the European Commission’s health advisory committee recommended a ban on mercury-based fillings in children and pregnant women.

“An ambitious regulation is needed to reduce the use of mercury in the European Union and phase it out of dentistry…over 66 percent of dental fillings in the EU are now made without mercury and it is now time that this becomes the norm,” said European Environment Bureau’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo.

The European public also voiced their concerns over amalgam.

Following consultations, the European Commission found that 88 percent of participating Europeans recommended to phase out the toxic material while 12 percent called for its use to be phased down.

Some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark have already banned or restricted the use of mercury-based dental fillings.

“European dentists know the end is near for amalgam. Alternatives are available, affordable, and effective. It is time for Europe to say good-bye to amalgam, a material clearly inferior to composite or ionomers,” said German Dentist Hans-Werner Bertelsen.

Composites and ionomers are both alternative dental restorative materials that use various glass and plastic compositions.

There is a growing consensus on the issue within the European Parliament as members have received over 17,000 signatures on petitions calling to ban amalgam in Europe.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents approximately 10 percent of global mercury consumption, making it the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world.

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UN “Profoundly Sorry” for Haiti Cholera Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:53:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148041 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly during a briefing on the United Nations’ New Approach to Cholera in Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly during a briefing on the United Nations’ New Approach to Cholera in Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

For the first time, the United Nations issued a formal apology for their role in the cholera outbreak in Haiti and announced new steps to alleviate the ongoing health crisis.

Speaking to the members of the UN General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made an emotional statement, expressing his deep regret for the suffering and loss of life that resulted from the cholera epidemic.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologise to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday.

Ban first delivered the apology, which was broadcast live on television in Haiti, in Creole, before switching to French and English.

The cholera outbreak, which occurred soon after the earthquake in 2010, killed nearly 10,000 and has to date infected close to 800,000, roughly one in twelve, Haitians.

We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Numerous reports including one by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention pinpointed the appearance of the first cholera cases to the arrival of UN peacekeepers from Nepal.

Just one month before leaving office, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the cholera outbreak has created a “blemish” on the reputation of both UN peacekeeping and the organisation as a whole.

The UN first admitted its role in the cholera crisis in August when, during a briefing, spokesman Farhan Haq said that the that international organisation became “convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak.”

Desir Jean-Clair from Boucan Care, a cholera survivor whose mother died from cholera described the apology as a “victory.”

“We sent thousands of letters and were in the street to get this victory for them to say today that they were responsible,” he told The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “They said that and we thank them. But it can’t end here. Because today there is still cholera in the whole country.”

While U.S. Senator Edward Markey, who had called for the apology, stated that it was “overdue” and is an “important first step for justice” for Haitians.

“The people of Haiti have long deserved more than just acknowledgment for the pain and sacrifice they have suffered in great part due to UN negligence,” said the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.

Though it does represent a shift after over six years of denial of involvement or responsibility on the part of the UN, the apology stops short of explicitly acknowledging the responsibility of the UN in introducing cholera into Haiti.

“We now recognise that we had a role in this, but to go to the extent of taking full responsibility for all is a step that would not be possible for us to take,” said Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson during a briefing.

He noted the major reason for the limitation is to ensure the continuation of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

“We have to continue to do this work, There might be tragic mistakes in the future also, but we have to keep that long-term perspective,” he said.

The apology also comes after a U.S. appeals court upheld the UN’s immunity in August from a lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of Haitian cholera victims.

Eliasson noted that the court decision helped protect key UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. It was therefore a “triggering” point for the apology and roadmap, he added.

“That is the reason we can now move forward to take this position of accepting moral responsibility and go to the extent that we express an apology…that is a way for us to send a message of support,” Eliasson stated.

However, words can only go so far, both Eliasson and Ban Ki-moon said.

“For the sake of the Haitian people, but also for the sake of the United Nations itself, we have a moral responsibility to act, and we have a collective responsibility to deliver,” Ban said.

In a report, the Secretary-General lays out a new two-track approach in order to reduce and end cholera transmission and long-term development of the country’s water, sanitation and health sectors respectively. Though work on track one is already underway, including the deployment of rapid response teams and vaccination programs, track two still is yet to be determined as consultations are ongoing.

Ban proposed a community approach for track two, working directly with the most affected Haitians. Though individual reparations could still be an element, Ban noted the difficulties to carry out such a program including the identification of deceased individuals and ensuring the provision of a meaningful fixed amount per cholera death.

The organisation has requested a total of $400 million over two years for the program, and has set up a voluntary funding system for both tracks. So far, an estimated $150 million has been received.

In order for the UN to achieve its ambitious program, it requires UN member states to make voluntary contributions.

“UN action requires member state action. Without your political will and financial support, we have only good intentions and words,” Ban said.

“With their history of suffering and hardships, the people of Haiti deserve this tangible expression of our solidarity,” he concluded.

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Ending AIDS Needs Both Prevention and a Curehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/ending-aids-needs-both-prevention-and-a-cure/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:13:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148030 A poster about stigma in a HIV testing lab in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

A poster about stigma in a HIV testing lab in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Eighteen million people, just slightly under half of the people living with HIV and AIDS globally, are now taking life-saving medication, but global efforts to end the disease still largely depend on prevention.

While efforts to expand antiretroviral treatment have been relatively successfully, prevention efforts have been more mixed.

With the help of treatment, mother to baby transmission has dropped significantly. Transmission between adults aged 30 and over has also dropped.

However, transmission rates among adolescents have risen, causing concern, particularly about the high number of new cases among young women between the ages of 15 to 24.

According to UNAIDS, a new report published last week, “shows that the ages between 15 and 24 years are an incredibly dangerous time for young women.”

The report included data from six studies in Southern Africa, which showed that “southern Africa girls aged between 15 and 19 years accounted for 90% of all new HIV infections among 10 to 19-year-olds.”

“Young women are facing a triple threat,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé. “They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more.”

The report also noted the countries that have increased their domestic funding for HIV prevention, “including Namibia, which has committed to investing 30% of its HIV budget in preventing HIV among adults and children.”

“Of course we all hope that this is a bi-partisan consensus but the fact that we, the U.S. government, continue to pay directly for service delivery in some countries is a huge risk,” -- Amanda Glassman

Ensuring the continued and renewed domestic and international funding for both treatment and prevention was the subject of discussion at the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. on Monday.

The event, held ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December, focused on a U.S. government initiative aimed at involving government finance departments, as well as health departments, in the HIV response.

Currently over 55 percent of the HIV response in low and middle-income countries comes from the governments of low and middle income countries.

However a significant amount of international support, roughly one third overall funding, comes from the U.S. government, which has made tackling HIV and AIDS a priority through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

However while U.S. funding for the HIV and AIDS response is considered bipartisan HIV and AIDS support, like any U.S. government program may change under Presidency of Donald Trump.

IPS spoke to Amanda Glassman, Vice President for Programs and Director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development after the event:

“Of course we all hope that this is a bi-partisan consensus but the fact that we, the U.S. government, continue to pay directly for service delivery in some countries is a huge risk,” she said. “On the one hand I think maybe it makes it harder to cut, but on the other hand if it does get cut it’s a disaster.”

Of the 18 million people currently on antiretroviral treatment globally, “4.5 million are receiving direct support,” from the U.S. while an additional 3.2 million are receiving indirect support through partner countries.

While there remains broad consensus over treatment, prevention efforts are considered more politically contentious.

Previous Republican administrations have supported abstinence programs, which studies have shown to be ineffective at preventing HIV transmission.

Glassman noted that while there is more political consensus over treatment programs “you need prevention really to finish this.”

However she noted one positive example from incoming Vice-President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

“(Pence) actually eliminated (needle exchange) programs and then saw HIV / AIDS go up and so he reversed his position, so I think that sounds good, he listens to evidence and action,” said Glassman.

However Pence’s record on women’s reproductive rights and his reported comments that in 2002 that condoms are too “modern” and “liberal”, may not bode well for overall prevention efforts, especially considering that addressing higher transmission rates among adolescent girls also requires addressing gender inequality and sexual violence. Update: In 2000, Pence’s campaign website also said that a US government HIV/AIDS program should direct resources “toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” a statement many have interpreted as support for gay-conversion therapy.

Reducing the high rates of transmission among adolescent girls will not be easy. It involves increasing girls economic independence as well as helping them to stay in school longer.

“It’s a discussion of investment in secondary school … so the discussion is bigger than health,” said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Deborah Birx at the event.

This is one of the reasons why involving government finance departments is important.

However finding additional funds for both education and health in the “hardest hit countries” will not be easy, said Glassman.

“(These countries) are coming in with growth projections that are much lower, they have pretty low tax yields meaning that the amount that they get from their tax base is pretty low.”

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Debate Roils India Over Family Planning Methodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:34:55 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148002 A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

The Indian government’s decision to make injectable contraceptives available to the public for free under the national family planning programme (FPP) has stirred debate about women’s choices in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country.

The controversial contraceptive containing the drug Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DPMA) is currently being introduced at the primary and district level. It is delivered in the form of an injection and works by thickening the mucous in a woman’s cervix which stops sperm from reaching the egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. It is also much cheaper than other forms of contraceptives available across the country.

Injectables have been part of family planning programs in many countries for the last two decades. They have also been available in the private sector in India since the early 1990s though not through government outlets. Advocates of injectable contraceptives say that their inclusion in the government’s programme will now offer women more autonomy and choice while simultaneously whittling down the country’s disquieting maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Nearly five women die every hour in India from medical complications developed during childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 45,000 mothers die due to causes related to childbirth every year in India, which accounts for 17 percent of such deaths globally, according to the global health body. The use of injectable contraceptives is also backed by the WHO, which has considered the overall quality of the drug with evidence along with the benefits of preventing unintended pregnancy.

However, Indian civil society seems splintered on the issue. Several bodies like the Population Foundation of India and Family Planning Association of India support the government’s move. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), an apex body of gynaecologists and obstetrics in the country, is also supportive of their use based on scientific evidence.

However, women right activists have opposed the initiative as a part of the national programme. They point to a report by the country’s premier pharmaceutical body — Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) — which has noted that DPMA causes bone loss. The report emphasizes that the osteoporotic effects of the injection worsen the longer the drug is administered and may remain long after the injections are stopped, and may even be irreversible. The DTAB had advised that the drug should not be included in the FPP until discussed threadbare with the country’s leading gynaecologists.

Several health groups, women’s organizations and peoples’ networks have also issued a joint statement protesting the approval of the injectable contraceptive. As far back as 1986, Indian women’s groups had approached the Supreme Court regarding serious problems with injectable contraceptives. based on a study by the country’s premier medical research organization — the Indian Council of Medical Research

Advocates of women’s health and reproductive rights add that the contraceptive is harmful to women as it leads to menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea, and demineralization of bones as a result of its long term use. Users have also reported weight gain, headaches, dizziness, abdominal bloating as well as decreased sex drive, and loss of bone density. The latest evidence from Africa now shows that the risk of acquiring HIV infection enhances because the couple is less likely to use a condom or any other form of contraception to minimise infection.

However, experts iterate that the real issue isn’t just about women’s health but about a human rights-based approach to family planning.

“Why should we control women’s access to choice? Is it not time to re-examine the issue and initiate a fresh debate?’’ asks Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, who has opposed the introduction of DMPA.

Others say that while they are all for enlarging the basket of choices for women, and empowering them, pushing invasive hormone-based technology upon them is hardly the way to go about it. Besides, with the incidents of arthritis and Vitamin D deficiency in India already worrisome, demineralization of bones caused by DPMA will make matters a lot worse.

The total Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) in India among married women is estimated at 54.8 percent with 48.2 percent women using modern methods. This is comparatively lower than neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka whose CPR stands at 65.6 percent, 61.2 percent and 68.4 percent, respectively.

In India, the primary method of family planning is female sterilization – at 65.7 percent, which is among the highest in the world. One of the key reasons for this is the limited availability of a wide range of contraceptive methods in the public health sector in the country, say family planning experts. Some fear that the new method might also result in poor women being used as guinea pigs for public healthcare.

“Women’s reproductive health has always been contentious and has had a fraught history, plagued by issues of ethics, consent, and the entrenched vested interests of global pharma companies and developed nations,” says Mukta Prabha, a volunteer with Women Power Connect, a pan-India women’s rights organization. “So we need to tread with caution on DPMA so that women can make informed choices and their health isn’t compromised.”

Indian women suffer from a host of problems associated with unwanted pregnancies from unsafe abortions to maternal mortality and life-long morbidity. The paucity of trained medical personnel in the public health system adds to their woes.. Besides, India has always had a troubled history of sterilisation. In 2014, over a dozen women died as the result of contaminated equipment in a sterilisation camp in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The resulting media uproar pressured the government to re-examine its policies and its long-held dependence on sterilisation. But in 2015-16 again there were 110 deaths due to botched sterilisation procedures. Given the high infant mortality rate, many women are wary of sterilisation. They also feel it restricts their choice of having children later if required. Despite this, over 1.4 m Indian women were sterilised in 2014 as against 5,004 men.

Worse, the controversial DPMA — which is aimed only at women — isn’t gender sensitive either. What should be pushed instead, say women activists, is male sterilisation which is a far simpler and minimally invasive procedure which also minimizes health risks for women.

As Prabha puts it, “Indian men’s participation in family planning has always been dismal even though they’re the ones who determine the number of children a women has. The current debate is a good opportunity to involve the men in the exercise and set right the gender skew.”

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Why Kenya’s Engagement with the UN Is a Big Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/why-kenyas-engagement-with-the-un-is-a-big-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-kenyas-engagement-with-the-un-is-a-big-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/why-kenyas-engagement-with-the-un-is-a-big-deal/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 17:27:41 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147799 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya.]]> The President meets Mrs Jumwa Kabibu who after 50 years of misery underwent a successful UN supported fistula surgery. Photo Credit: Newton/UNIC

The President meets Mrs Jumwa Kabibu who after 50 years of misery underwent a successful UN supported fistula surgery. Photo Credit: Newton/UNIC

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 16 2016 (IPS)

President Uhuru Kenyatta warmly welcomed dozens of U.N Agencies, development partners and senior Government officials to the State House on 02 November 2016 to discuss the joint development plan from 2014 – 2018.

He is perhaps the only head of state in Africa to take on this responsibility personally and believes in the transformational power of the Government-UN partnership to address national priorities for sustainable development. (Speech/audio)

The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) is a critical document that guides government and U.N, partnership, ensuring the UN system is fit for purpose and contributes effectively to national development priorities.

The framework is nurturing a partnership grounded in dialogue and learning, leading to concrete action and progress. Important progress has been made in areas like HIV/AIDS, clean water, energy, food security, and the environment during the past 2 years of this UNDAF(PDF document).

“I am impressed by the progress achieved since our last meeting in August, 2015. It is truly encouraging to see the Vision turn to Action,” he said during this year’s review.

He was alluding to progress resulting from a joint Government-UN approach to addressing issues such as poverty and various vulnerabilities; progress coming from commitment to joining up efforts and pooling respective expertise and resources to make an impact on Kenyans.

Testimonials abound regarding this impact. (Watch UNDAF video). They include a 70 year-old lady who received treatment after suffering fistula for 50 years; matatu (public transport vehicle) owners who have improved the terms and conditions of matatu drivers and conductors as per international labour and a women’s community group bordering the Amboseli National Park who are part of conservation efforts through livelihood programmes.

The UNDAF has leveraged the devolved system of government with tremendous results in some counties. The innovative Governments of Kenya-Ethiopia Cross-border Program on Peace and Socio-economic Development supported by the UN has potential of being replicated in other parts of the world.

These are the kind of stories coming out of the UNDAF review process, whose emphasis is on accountability for results. The stories tell of impact across most of the major pillars of the country’s Vision 2030, which also overlap with UN priorities such as peace, security, and poverty reduction.

The UNDAF in Kenya is recognized by the UN Development Group as a best practice in creating an alliance shaped by common interests and shared purpose, and bounded by clear principles that encourage autonomy and synergy.

The Framework was developed according to UN Delivering as One principles (DaO) aimed at ensuring Government ownership, demonstrated through UNDAF’s full alignment to Government priorities and planning cycles, and internal coherence among UN agencies and programmes operating in Kenya.

The partners have also been able to jointly recognize and agree on the national, regional and global realities that should inform their interventions. For instance, both the Government of Kenya and the UN are aware of Kenya’s looming youth bulge with 1 million young people joining the work force annually and the need to turn it into a demographic dividend, lest it turn into a demographic disaster.

“We must focus on our youth and provide alternatives to crime, violent extremism and despondency,” the President said during the review.

Kenya is on a journey to realizing Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. The UNDAF has demonstrated that it presents the best opportunity for powering the implementation of Kenya’s development agenda. Kenya’s engagement with the United Nations Country Team and indeed all development partners brought together under a solid framework is therefore a plus for the people of Kenya.

The UN and Government must not relent in pursuing more gains. New realities are bringing about new threats to social and economic development, calling for new approaches, but also creating new opportunities for collaboration.

These new approaches may for instance involve deepening private-public partnerships to engage a third force – private companies – that have unique innovation and implementation capabilities. This engagement can only develop better and more integrated solutions to important national challenges. (RC Speech Audio)

Ultimately, this framework is not about the UN or the Government or non-state actors, but is aimed at achieving a transformation in the lives of every Kenyan and ensuring that “no one is left behind”.

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Actions Needed Urgently to Tackle Air Pollution – Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/actions-needed-urgently-to-tackle-air-pollution-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=actions-needed-urgently-to-tackle-air-pollution-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/actions-needed-urgently-to-tackle-air-pollution-part-2/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2016 09:38:24 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147746 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva. ]]> Panoramic view of a neighbourhood in southern Mexico City, with buildings semi-hidden by air pollution. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Panoramic view of a neighbourhood in southern Mexico City, with buildings semi-hidden by air pollution. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Nov 14 2016 (IPS)

As evidence mounts on the threats posed by air pollution to both human health and the environment, action must be urgently taken to address this problem.  

At the global level, the Paris Agreement that came into force on 10 November aims to get countries to significantly reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and to better cope with climate change.

In May 2016, Health Ministers approved a global “roadmap” to address air pollution at the World Health Assembly.  And the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, adopted in 2015, contain accompanying targets for reducing air pollution.

But much more needs to be done, especially at the national level, to seriously tackle this crisis.

The adverse health effects of air pollution have been growing worse with a 8% increase from 2008 to 2013 in deaths globally caused by urban air pollution, according to World Health Organisation data. Although the situation has improved in developed countries, it has deteriorated in most developing countries.

Countering air pollution should thus be a top priority. What should be done?   First, more details and data should be collected in all countries, through improvements in monitoring air pollution and its adverse health effects.

Second, a public education campaign is needed to make the public more aware of the dangers of air pollution so they can take actions to prevent the pollution and to avoid being exposed.

Third, and most important, the causes of the pollution must be identified and action plans drawn up to eliminate or reduce the factors these sources.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Outdoor air pollution is caused by transport vehicles that emit pollutants, coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, burning of wastes and fires in forest and agricultural areas.  Indoor pollution is mainly caused by the use of fuels that are based on wood and coal.

Besides the direct effects on human health, the pollution is also a major cause of global warming, which in turn also affects health.

It is thus doubly important to tackle these causes.  Actions should include the following:

  • Reduce vehicle emissions through better energy-efficiency and air-pollution standards for vehicles and control of private transport.
  • Give priority to public transport and promote clean transport such as railways, bicycles and walkways
  • Phase out of coal powered plants, shift to clean modes of power generation, and promote renewable energy
  • Impose strict air pollution controls in industry and phase in clean low-emissions technologies.
  • Promote energy efficiency in the design of buildings.
  • Phase out the use of wood and charcoal as household fuels used in traditional stoves, and replace them with safe and efficient stoves.
  • Reduce waste through recycling and reuse, introduce alternatives to open incineration of solid waste and stop the open burning of household wastes.
  • Stop the burning of forests, mangroves and in agriculture; this is the most important to prevent the South-east Asian “haze.”
  • Take measures so as to adhere to the WHO guidelines for outdoor and indoor air pollution. (The WHO guideline for particulate matter (PM) outdoor pollution is 10 microgram per cubic meter annual mean for particles below the size of 2.5 microns in diameter, and 20 microgram for particles below 10 microns in size).

Drastically reducing air pollution would be tackling the world’s biggest health and environmental problems, as air pollution is the major source of deaths and diseases, as well as the main cause of climate change
Air pollution reduction measures should become part of wider health and environmental strategies and be given priority and resources in the country’s development plans.

The problem must also be given the global attention it deserves.  In May 2016, the World Health Assembly for the first time adopted a road map to tackle air pollution and its causes. (WHA Document A69/18;  6 May 2016).  The four-point road map calls on the health sector to:

  • Expand the knowledge base on air pollution, its health effects and effectiveness of policies;
  • Increase monitoring of air pollution locally and assess the health impacts of its sources;
  • Take on a leadership role in national policies to respond to air pollution and at the global level;
  • Build its own capacity to influence policy and decision making processes to take joint action on air pollution and health.

The UN’s Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in September 2015, also has goals and targets relevant to air pollution.   These include goals and associated targets relevant to health (Goal 3); cities (Goal 11) and household energy (Goal 7).   The three indicators most relevant to air pollution are:

  • SDG Indicator 3.9.1 for goal 3 on health (mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution);
  • SDG Indicator 11.6.2 for goal 11 on cities (annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (PM) in cities; and
  • SDG Indicator 7.1.2 for goal 7 on energy (proportion of population with primary reliance on clean fuels and technologies).

Cutting down on air pollution, which is closely related to emissions of Greenhouse Gases, is one the major actions (if not the very top action) countries are expected to take to fight climate change, and thus most relevant to the implementation of the Paris Agreement of the UN Climate Change Convention adopted in December 2015.

Indeed, drastically reducing air pollution would be tackling the world’s biggest health and environmental problems, as air pollution is the major source of deaths and diseases, as well as the main cause of climate change.

Action plans on air pollution are thus urgently needed at both national and global levels.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”

We are only at the starting phase of understanding the huge health problem that air pollution causes.  We have however been made conscious of the grave crisis that it has caused to the environment.

While the actions needed are quite clear, getting them implemented will be an immense challenge, as the causes of air pollution are presently so embedded in modern lifestyles and economic structures.

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Air Pollution Emerges as a Top Killer Globally – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/air-pollution-emerges-as-a-top-killer-globally-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=air-pollution-emerges-as-a-top-killer-globally-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/air-pollution-emerges-as-a-top-killer-globally-part-1/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 15:42:45 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147726 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva. ]]> Dark pollution clouds over Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani/IPS.

Dark pollution clouds over Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani/IPS.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

New research is showing that air pollution is a powerful if silent killer, causing 6.5 million worldwide deaths as well as being the major cause of climate change.   

Air pollution has emerged as a leading cause of deaths and serious ailments in the world.  Emissions that cause air pollution and are Greenhouse Gases are also the main factor causing climate change.

Therefore, drastically reducing air pollution should now be treated as a top priority.

The seriousness of this problem was highlighted by the heavy smog that enveloped New Delhi for days at the beginning of November, forcing the government to declare an emergency, schools to be closed and a ban on construction work for several days.

The level of the harmful PM2.5 pollutants had almost reached 1,000 at some times in the Indian capital city, far above the safety level of 60.

Recent research shows that air pollution is the number one environmental cause of human deaths and kills more people annually worldwide than road accidents, violence, fires and wars combined.

This “silent killer” is not as dramatic or visible as car crashes, murders, terrorist attacks or natural disasters, but it is nevertheless even more dangerous as it contaminates vital organs, causing serious diseases and deaths to many millions of people.

Altogether 6.5 million people worldwide are estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have died prematurely in 2012 because of air pollution.

This means that of the 56 million deaths worldwide in 2012, 11.6% or one in nine were attributable to air pollution.

In comparison, there were 5 million deaths from all injuries including from road accidents (1.3 million deaths), falls, fires, and war in 2012, according to WHO data.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Indeed, air pollution may have become one of the top killers. Tobacco use, usually described as the world’s leading preventable cause of death, is responsible for nearly 6 million deaths annually, or around 10% of total deaths.

Air pollution may have overtaken it as the world’s leading cause of death.

The WHO estimates that there are 4.3 million deaths attributable to indoor pollution and another 3.7 million deaths to outdoor pollution.

Because some deaths may be due to both outdoor and indoor pollution, it is not possible to add up the two figures to obtain the total deaths.

Thus in its latest estimate in September 2016, the WHO has explained that there were 6.5 million deaths from outdoor and indoor air pollution combined in 2012.

Young children are among the most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.  A new UNICEF study released on 31 October 2016 found  air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year, and that around 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeded the WHO air quality guidelines.
Besides its threat to human lives and health, air pollution is also the major cause of climate change as it is linked to much of the Greenhouse Gas emissions.

The Paris Agreement of the UN Climate Change Conference that came into force on 10 November aims to limit the rise of the average global temperature to 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era levels.

At the current rate of global emissions, and even at rates reduced by the Paris Agreement commitments, global warming will far exceed this limit, and thus the world faces potentially catastrophic effects to the global environment, food supplies and also human health.

Thus, air pollution ranks as the biggest threat to both human health and the environment.  Reducing this pollution should therefore be at the top of the global agenda as well as national agendas.

Outdoor Air Pollution

At the end of September, the WHO for the first time published country-by-country details about the extent of outdoor air pollution and the deaths associated with it.

The study shows that 3 million premature deaths worldwide were linked to ambient or outdoor air pollution in 2012.   Of this, 88% of the deaths were in developing countries and two out of three occurred in the Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific regions.

Two countries alone accounted for more than half of the total deaths — China with 1.03 million and India with 621,138.

Other high-numbered countries include Russia (140,851), Indonesia (61,792), Ukraine (54,507), Egypt (43,531), Nigeria (46,750), Pakistan (59,241), United States (38,043), Bangladesh (37,449), Turkey (32,668), Japan (30,790) the Philippines (28,696), Vietnam (27,340), Poland  (26,589), Iran (26,267), Brazil (26,241) and Germany (26,160).

Most of the deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution were caused by non-communicable diseases, especially ischaemic heart diseases (36% of the total deaths), strokes (36%), lung cancer (14%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (8%), and acute lower respiratory infections (8%).

The situation is truly pervasive: 92% of the world’s population are exposed to the dangers of unsafe air quality as they live in places that do not meet the WHO health standard for outdoor air quality.

The world as a whole has an annual median exposure to outdoor mean annual concentration of PM2.5 of 39  microgram per cubic metre.  This is four times above the WHO’s guideline limit of 10 microgram per cubic metre for PM2.5.

The regions with the highest outdoor air pollution rates are Eastern Mediterranean high-income countries (91 microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5), Eastern Mediterranean low and middle income countries (55), Southeast Asia (55), Western Pacific low and middle income countries (49) and Africa (32).

The situation is truly pervasive: 92% of the world’s population are exposed to the dangers of unsafe air quality as they live in places that do not meet the WHO health standard for outdoor air quality.
Countries with high incidence of outdoor air pollution include Saudi Arabia (108 microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5), Qatar (103), Egypt (93), Kuwait (75), Bangladesh (84), Cameroon (65), Mauritania (65), United Arab Emirates (64), India (62), Libya (61), Pakistan (60), Bahrain (60) and China (54).

The PM2.5 level is the annual median concentration of particulate matter of a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres.  PM2.5 includes very fine (and thus the most damaging) particles of pollutants such as sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon and mineral dust, which penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs and in the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest health risks of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

Air quality is normally measured in terms of daily or annual mean concentrations of PM10 or PM2.5 particles (with diameter of 10 or 2.5 micrograms) per cubic metre of air volume.

(The WHO guidelines for particulate matter (PM) outdoor pollution is an annual mean of 10 microgram per cubic meter for particles below the size of 2.5 microns in diameter, and 20 microgram per cubic metre for particles below 10 microns in size.)

The world also suffered 84.9 million years of life lost in 2012, attributable to outdoor air pollution, according to the WHO report.   Years of life lost is a measure of the extent of premature death compared to the normal expected life span.

Of the total years of life lost, 26% was due to lung cancer, 17% to stroke, 17% to acute respiratory disease, 16% to ischaemic heart disease and 8% to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The WHO report “Ambient air pollution: a global assessment of exposure and burden of disease” was based on satellite data, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 rural and urban locations.

The study does not include indoor or household air pollution, which may be even more dangerous than outdoor air pollution.

Indoor Air Pollution

Worldwide, 4.3 million people die annually from indoor air pollution, mainly from stroke (34%), ischaemic heart disease (26%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (22%), pneumonia (12%) and lung cancer (6%).

The main form of the deadly household pollution is the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating.  Nearly 3 billion poor people rely on wood, animal dung, charcoal, crop wastes and coal which are burned in highly polluting simple stoves or open fires.

The resulting pollution, which includes small soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, especially affects women and children who spend a lot of time near the kitchen or hearth.

In poorly ventilated homes, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than the acceptable levels for fine particles, according to WHO.   The use of kerosene lamps for lighting also exposes the families to very high levels of fine particles.

The emissions of black carbon and methane from the stoves also contribute to outdoor air pollution and increase climate change as both are powerful Greenhouse Gases.

The WHO has new indoor air quality guidelines for household fuel combustion and recommendations on types of fuels and technologies to protect health, in addition to guidelines on specific indoor pollutants.  It will also do a study of indoor pollution and when the figures are published they will reveal the full problems caused by air pollution.

 

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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World to Cut Gas Emissions by 25 Percent More Than Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/world-to-cut-gas-emissions-by-25-percent-more-than-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-to-cut-gas-emissions-by-25-percent-more-than-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/world-to-cut-gas-emissions-by-25-percent-more-than-paris-agreement/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2016 13:03:10 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147626 World must urgently increase action and ambition to cut another 25 per cent off 2030 emissions. Credit: UNEP

World must urgently increase action and ambition to cut another 25 per cent off 2030 emissions. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 4 2016 (IPS)

On the eve of the entry into force of the Paris Agreement today Nov. 4, the United Nations sounded new climate alarm, urging the world to ‘dramatically’ step up its efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by some 25 per cent more.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in its Emissions Gap report 2016, warned that the world must urgently act to cut a further 25 per cent from predicted 2030 emissions “to meet the stronger, and safer, target of 1.5 degrees Celsius” global temperature rise.

“The world is still heading for temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 this century, even with the pledges made last December by States Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to UNEP.

“This means we need to find another one degree from somewhere […] to have any chance of minimizing dangerous climate change.”

UNEP made the announcement in London as it released its annual Emissions Gap report, which found that 2030 emissions are expected to reach 54 to 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The projected level needed to keep global warming from surpassing 2°C this century is 42 gigatonnes.

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP

In early October, the Paris Agreement on climate change cleared the final threshold of 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions required for the accord to enter into effect, now set for tomorrow.

The next meeting of Parties to the UNFCCC, known widely as COP 22, kicks off Monday Nov. 7 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Scientists around the world agree that limiting global warming to 2°C this century (compared to pre-industrial levels) would reduce the probability of severe storms, longer droughts, rising sea levels and other devastating climate-related events, says the report. “The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver” - UNEP Executive Director

“However, they caution that even a lower target of 1.5°C will reduce rather than eliminate impacts.”

Erik Solheim, UNEP executive director, said in a new release that while the Paris Agreement and the recent Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), are steps in the right direction, the strong commitments are nevertheless still not enough.

Since 2010, UNEP has produced annual Emissions Gap Reports based on requests by countries for an independent scientific assessment of how actions and pledges by states affect the global greenhouse gas emissions trend, and how this compares to emissions trajectories consistent with the long-term goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakech, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver,” the UNEP chief said.

That stark warning echoed his call from the report’s forward, where he said: “None of this will be the result of bad weather. It will be the result of bad choices by governments, private sector and individual citizens. Because there are choices […] The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

2015 was the hottest year ever recorded and the first six months of 2016 have thus far broken all prior records. Yet the report finds that emissions continue to increase.

Last month, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol agreed to slash the use of HFCs. According to preliminary studies, this could lead to a cut in 0.5½ °C if fully implemented, although significant reductions will not be realised until 2025.

Collectively, members of the Group of 20 most industrialised countries (G20) are on track to meet their Cancun Agreements for 2020, but these pledges fall short of a realistic starting point that would align targets with the Paris Agreement, according to UNEP.

Fortunately, the report has found, through technology and opportunity assessments, a number of ways for States and non-State actors to implement further cuts that would make the goals achievable, including energy efficiency acceleration and crossover with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For example, non-State actors, including those in the private sector, cities, and citizen groups, can help to reduce several gigatonnes by 2030 in areas such as agriculture and transport.

Energy efficiency is another opportunity; a 6 per cent increase in investments last year (a total of 221 billion dollars) in the industry indicates that such action is already happening, it adds.

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP

“Moreover, studies have shown that an investment of 20 to 100 dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide would lead to reductions (in tonnes) of 5.9 for buildings, 4.1 for industry, and 2.1 for transport by 2030.”

The 1 Gigaton Coalition, created by UNEP with the support of the government of Norway in 2014, recently found that implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries from 2005 to 2015 will lead to a half gigatonne reduction in emissions by 2020. This includes actions taken by countries that have not made formal Cancun pledges.

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Toxic Air – The ‘Invisible Killer’ that Stifles 300 Million Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/toxic-air-the-invisible-killer-that-stifles-300-million-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toxic-air-the-invisible-killer-that-stifles-300-million-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/toxic-air-the-invisible-killer-that-stifles-300-million-children/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 14:47:23 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147584 On 24 October 2016 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, children pass in front of a flame fed by waste and rubber materials in order to make Kanda, a type of smoked meat, at an abattoir. Photo: UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

On 24 October 2016 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, children pass in front of a flame fed by waste and rubber materials in order to make Kanda, a type of smoked meat, at an abattoir. Photo: UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

About 300 million children in the world are living in areas with outdoor air so toxic – six or more times higher than international pollution guidelines – that it can cause serious health damage, including harming their brain development.

This shocking finding has just been revealed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a new report — ‘Clear the air for children‘. “Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs – they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures,” UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake on Oct 31 said while announcing the report.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” he added. “No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”

These findings come a week ahead of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh, Morocco, where UNICEF is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to cut air pollution in their countries. “Nine in ten people breathe air that is not safe. Air pollution is an invisible killer that we may face on a simple walk home or even in our homes – WHO”

Using satellite imagery, the report further shows that around two billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution, caused by factors such as vehicle emissions, heavy use of fossil fuels, dust and burning of waste, exceeds minimum air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

South Asia has the largest number of children living in these areas, at 620 million, with Africa following with 520 million children, and the East Asia and Pacific region with 450 million children living in areas that exceed guideline limits.

Children Breathe Faster, Take in More Air than Adults

UNICEF further stressed that children are more susceptible than adults to both indoor and outdoor air pollution as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still developing and their respiratory tracks are more permeable.

It added that young children also breathe faster than adults, and take in more air relative to their body weight.
In particular, the most disadvantaged, who already tend to have poorer health and inadequate access to health services, are the most vulnerable to the illnesses caused by polluted air.

The UNICEF report also examines the impact of indoor pollution, commonly caused by the use of fuels like coal and wood for cooking and heating, which mostly affects children in low-income, rural areas.

Around 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international limits. Source: UNICEF

Around 2 billion children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international limits. Source: UNICEF

“Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 under-five deaths, making air pollution one of the leading dangers to children’s health.”

UNICEF further added that it is asking world leaders attending COP 22 to take four urgent steps in their countries to protect children from air pollution, these include: reducing pollution to meet WHO global air quality guidelines; increasing children’s access to health care; minimising children’s exposure to sources of pollution such as by locating sources of pollution such as factories away from schools and playgrounds as well as by use of cleaner cook stoves; and monitoring air pollution.

For its part, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Coalition for Climate and Clean Air (CCAC) and the Government of Norway on Oct 20 launched a global awareness campaign on the dangers of air pollution – especially ‘invisible killers’ such as black carbon, ground-level ozone and methane – for the health of individuals and the planet.

Air Pollution Kills Seven Million People a Year

Titled BreatheLife: Clean air. A healthy future, the campaign aims to mobilise cities and their inhabitants on issues of health and protecting the planet from the effects of air pollution. ‘BreatheLife’ brings together expertise and partners that can tackle both the climate and health impacts of air pollution.

According to WHO, air pollution kills nearly seven million people each year, nearly 12 per cent of deaths worldwide. And it is responsible for 35 per cent of deaths due to lung disease, 27 per cent of deaths from heart disease, 34 per cent of deaths from stroke, and 36 per cent of deaths from lung cancer.

“Urban air pollution levels also tend to be higher in many low and middle-income cities and in poor neighbourhoods of high-income cities. This means reductions in pollutants can have particularly large health benefits for lower income groups as well as for children, elderly, and women.”

The campaign seeks to cut in half the number of deaths from air pollution by 2030 – the target year for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

‘Breathe Life’ highlights the practical policies that cities can implement to improve the air quality through better housing, transport infrastructure, managements of waste and energy systems.

It also educates individuals and communities about the measures they can take daily to achieve cleaner air, such as stopping the incineration of waste, development of green spaces and the choice of walking or cycling.

“Improved vehicle standards, prioritization of clean public transport, and the adoption of stoves and more efficient alternative fuel for cooking, lighting and heating are also part of the actions put forward by the campaign the goal of saving more lives and protect the environment.”

For WHO and its partners, this series of measures to achieve a reduction of pollutants could significantly reduce the number of annual deaths from air pollution.

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Who Should Lead the WHO Next?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/who-should-lead-the-who-next/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-should-lead-the-who-next http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/who-should-lead-the-who-next/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147499 Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

Margaret Chan (left), Director-General of the World Health Organization visiting Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in December 2014.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Health problems increasingly transcend the borders of the World Health Organization’s 194 member states, a challenge which the six candidates vying to lead the global body must address with care.

Those 194 member states will pick the next Director-General of the world’s peak health body in May 2017, after the current six candidates are whittled down by the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board in January.

The ninth Director-General of the world’s peak health body will play a key role in ensuring global responses to an increasingly complex and contrasting list of global health problems: the spread of mosquito borne diseases due to climate change, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, the unfinished business of AIDS and HIV, air pollution, domestic violence, the global rise in noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes as well as the inevitable emergence of the next Ebola-like pathogen.

She, or he, will need to navigate a delicate balance between serving each of the global body’s member states while also ensuring that the world’s only global health body is greater than the sum of its parts.

The candidates: 
- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, public health expert and former minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia; 
- Dr Flavia Bustreo of Italy, currently WHO Assistant Director-General for family, women's and children's health;
- Professor Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, former politician and current UN Special Advisor;
- Dr David Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, who notably led the UN's response to Ebola;
- Dr Sania Nishtar, of Pakistan, a politician, author, activist and public health expert;
- Dr Miklós Szócska, former Minister of State for Health of Hungary.

“Today when we talk about WHO’s role it really transcends states, it goes into a global response category,” Esperanza Martinez, Head of the Health Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IPS.

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation – not to confront the states – but to challenge the states to do better, to challenge the states to fulfill their obligations, to challenge the states to be more efficient and effective,” she said.

Yet, like any other UN body, the WHO “is no better or worse than the governments who make it up,” Susannah Sirkin Director of international policy and partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights told IPS.

The new Director-General will take over after a period of heavy soul searching for the Geneva-based organisation following deep criticism of the WHO’s handling of Ebola in West Africa.

“There is an enormous call for increased transparency and efficiency within the organisation,” said Sirkin.

In order to address emerging epidemics, such as Ebola and Zika, Martinez says that it is essential that the WHO is ready and able to spring into action.

“The fact that WHO has to wait for minsters of health and governments to qualify crisis really can delay interventions in critical moments,” said Martinez.

The new Director-General will also need to be prepared to “hit the ground running,” meaning that they should be “someone who already understands how the UN system works and how the WHO works,” she added.

“We need someone who understands the dynamics of humanitarian and emergency responses today.”

For Sirkin, the new Director-General will also need to transcend the “historic limitations”which have often seen the WHO adopt “relative silence” towards matters that are seen as within the control of national governments.

Health is politicised, said Sirkin, when governments fail “to invest to an adequate degree in the provision of both preventative and curative health care, or (fail) to invest a proportionate or reasonable amount of their national budget in health care.”

“What you need is someone who is able to lead the organisation, not to confront the states, but to challenge the states to do better," -- Esperanza Martinez, ICRC.

“The next Director-General has to really have some political courage and the ability to galvanise,” to overcome the constraints which have historically limited the WHO from speaking out.

“Somehow the WHO as an agency needs to transcend that.”

For example, she said the WHO should be able to speak out when the Syrian government “overtly obstructed the delivery of humanitarian including medical aid in an alarming way.”

She welcomed the WHO’s new role in addressing the global problem of attacks on health workers and health facilities, but noted that this is another area where the new Director-General will be required to have political courage.

Beyond humanitarian crises, the new Director-General will face many other complex challenges, including emerging threats such as antimicrobial resistance, as well as much older health challenges such as maternal mortality.

Two of the six candidates for the position of Director-General are women. Unlike the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has always been held by men, two women, Chan and Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have already led the WHO.

However although women and children’s health have been considered priorities of the UN and the WHO, Sirkin says that it is important for the WHO to do more than pay lip service to gender inequality in health, whether a man or a woman holds the role of Director-General, “especially since there is now known an enormous correlation between women’s rights and health.”

“Basic women’s rights – including reproductive rights, violence against women (and) sexual violence – over the long run is going to be a continuing enormous barrier to the development of global health,” she said.

The six candidates will address the members of the World Health Organization as well as members of the public on November 1 and 2.

More than half (4) hail from Europe – Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom – the other two come from Ethiopia and Pakistan. The hopefuls all share backgrounds as medical doctors, and most have extensive experience in public health or politics.

The successful candidate will replace current Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, of China in July 2017.

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Private Interests Valued over Human Lives in Flint, Michiganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/private-interests-valued-over-human-lives-in-flint-michigan/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2016 19:10:37 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147391 Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Flint water tower. Credit: George Thomas / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Phoebe Braithwaite
NEW YORK, Oct 16 2016 (IPS)

When the water in Flint, Michigan was found to be corroding cars at a General Motors’ (GM) factory, government officials agreed to change the factory’s water source, yet the same water source continued to poison the residents of Flint for another year.

From 17 to 20 October governments will meet in Quito, Ecuador, for HABITAT III, the UN’s most important conference about cities, which only occurs once every 20 years. HABITAT III looks to inaugurate a new urban agenda and set down goals about how cities can and should be responsible for the wellbeing of their inhabitants.

Flint’s ongoing crisis demonstrates some of the challenges cities face, all the more important due to extensive urbanisation, which means that half the world’s population now lives in cities. Judging by the example of Flint, much more can be done to hold state officials to account, and protect and support the most vulnerable in society, as corporations become more powerful.

In October 2014, six months after the crisis in Flint had begun, GM were given permission by the city’s emergency manager, appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, to reconnect their water to Detroit’s water source, Lake Huron, at a cost of $440,000. According to reporting by Democracy Now!, GM also took all the water fountains out of the plant, indicating they knew it was not fit for human consumption.

All over the world, the poorest pay the most for water, and 650 million people – almost 1 in 10 – don’t have easy access to clean water. Many of these people spend half their daily income on informal water supplies, while those connected to formal water sources pay a fraction of this amount, according to a report published this year by Water Aid. It cites Papua New Guinea as a salient example, where 60% of the population lives without access to clean water, and water costs, on average, 54% of an already economically deprived person’s salary.

But the United States is the richest country in the world, and the web of factors which have brought about this crisis did so because – in America as elsewhere – poor lives matter less than richer ones. “If this had happened in a more well-to-do or more economically successful or vibrant area, it is arguable that the problem would not have become as bad as it was permitted to become… their voice was more easily ignored,” lawyer Kenneth Stern, Chief Executive of Stern Law PLLC, who has represented many Flint residents affected by the crisis, told IPS.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” -- Lorei Graham

“It’s shameful. I’m not proud as an American to say that to you. It embarrasses me, quite frankly… You can’t treat these people like that,” Stern said.

“It is truly sad that money is more important than the welfare of the people,” Lorei Graham, a Flint resident who to this day deals with chronic rashes and hair loss as a result of ongoing contact with Flint water, told IPS. Graham has two jobs, one in a department store, another for a merchandising agency. She used to work in a gas station, where customers would cringe at the sight of her skin, thinking she was contagious, an experience she says wore her down.

In East Chicago’s West Calumet Housing Complex, 1,100 residents were recently forced to move after extraordinary levels of lead were found in their soil, showing that the public health crisis in Flint is by no means a lone example of negligence towards poor, primarily black citizens. There are thought to be comparable problems with plumbing in at least 19 states.

“Really, humans matter. Life matters,” said Flint resident Clarissa Camez to IPS. “And when you put profits before people, profits before the environment, profits before the good of all, this is what you end up with.”

What happened in Flint

All of Flint’s 98,310 residents have been exposed to the water’s various toxins. A public health crisis of enormous proportions has afflicted the city: Legionnaire’s Disease, a virulent form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that can multiply in certain water systems, has so far killed 10 of the 87 people it affected. Though data is scarce, the city’s 8-9000 children under six have been exposed to lead poisoning, which leads to brain damage, developmental disorders, and sudden behavioral change. It has also been linked to violent behaviour later in life.

Graham has noticed changes of these kinds in her own grandchildren. Her 8-year-old granddaughter, who used to be a good student, is now struggling in school. Her grandson, who is even younger, is no longer the obedient kid he once was, and she says that both children are far slower to respond to requests. These reports are incredibly common, and doctors are clear that no level of lead exposure is safe for developing brains.

About 57 percent of Flint’s inhabitants are black, and 41.6 percent of the city lives below the poverty line. There is nothing accidental about the fact that Flint’s primarily black population experiences increased poverty, while its more affluent suburbs are still substantially white: beginning in the 1930s, racist mortgage redlining policies were explicitly and systematically designed to stop black people from buying homes and building wealth, and left them more vulnerable to extortion through contracts that overvalued homes, harshly punished them for missing payments and never entitled them to own those houses.

These policies enabled white residents to move out when GM began to de-industrialise and jobs began to be cut in the 1940s, as the company sought cheaper labour according to the whims of the global economy. This trapped black people in increasingly economically deprived areas, and lay the groundwork for the poverty that persists in Flint today, a shell of the headquartered industrial town General Motors claimed it as in 1908.

“The Federal Housing Administration, along with the Homeowners Loan Corporation, mapped out cities across the country and determined which areas of the metropolis were safe for federally backed mortgages,” Andrew Highsmith, Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Demolition Means Progress, a history of inequality and metropolitan development in Flint, told IPS. “Effectively, this enabled millions of white Americans to leave cities like Flint or Los Angeles and move to racially segregated suburbs with federal subsidies.”

Alongside the movement of whites into the suburbs, a drastic restructuring of state revenue-sharing occurred between 1998 and 2012, reducing Flint’s income from $900 million to $215 million, and significantly diminishing its tax base. This is led to a chronic lack of investment in public services. The same impulses underlay initial plans to build a cost-saving pipeline and the corresponding switch from Lake Huron to Flint River water.

Cutting Flint’s money, Highsmith says, has been “part of this broader shift towards austerity,” “this belt-tightening at all levels of government”. But, reflecting the same pattern of prioritising private investments over basic social provisions, in this topsy-turvy world, enormous tax subsidies were created to attract private investment, such as the millions film studios were offered to set up in Michigan. GM saves an undisclosed amount in capped tax credits, in return for which the company has made a deal with Governor Snyder that it should spend a billion on public investment.

Today

Although Flint’s water has been switched back to Lake Huron, the crisis is far from over for Flint’s residents.
Residents “are still not drinking water. They are still afraid of the water,” Stern says. “Many of these people if not most of them are still washing their clothes in only bottled water; many of them are still drinking only bottled water; many of them are still bathing in bottled water.”

Residents are concerned that their water is still being contaminated because of the corrosion already caused to their pipes.

Nobody knows when the $1.5 billion needed to replace the pipes will turn up.

This is more than just inconvenient, he stresses. It is an extraordinary cost to bear over years – and Graham, like many other Flint residents, is still being charged for water that has poisoned her and continues to cause them severe health problems There have been recent reports of shigellosis in Flint, a bacterial disease that spreads from people not washing their hands.

There are also a vast number of problems caused by the crisis for which it is impossible to demonstrate a direct causal connection. Camez suffers from a chronic auto-immune disorder, as well as accompanying psychiatric effects. Both have been aggravated by the crisis – she experiences tingling in her hands and feet, she has pain in her joints and her hair falls out. All of the pre-existing difficulties in her life have been exacerbated by the crisis, and she conveys her sense of betrayal that what is causing all the ruin in Flint is “something that is necessary for life”.

“People say, ‘why is it so important?’ Well, why is it so important that you have something that’s necessary for the sustenance and maintenance of life? You know, you can do without food for a few days, but you should really have water every day. It would help if it was clean.”

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Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Strawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/making-policy-out-of-scientific-bricks-not-straw/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147205 Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unsg-sab/

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Pensions for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/pensions-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pensions-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/pensions-for-all/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 18:31:22 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rob Vos http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147190 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development. Rob Vos is Director of Agricultural Development Economics at FAO and was Director of Development Policy Analysis at the UN Secretariat.]]> Seniors in conversation at Jongmyo Park, in downtown Seoul, Republic of Korea. UN Photo/Kibae Park

Seniors in conversation at Jongmyo Park, in downtown Seoul, Republic of Korea. UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rob Vos
KUALA LUMPUR and ROME, Oct 1 2016 (IPS)

October 1st is the International Day of Older Persons. Just another day? Perhaps, but it should remind us that the world’s population is ageing, brought about by the combined effects of declining mortality and fertility rates and longer longevity. By mid-century, one out of five people will be over 65 compared to over one in ten now.

This is dramatic enough. What is equally compelling is that eighty per cent of older persons in the world will be living in developing countries by then – within two generations.

This ageing of the world’s population is one of humanity’s major achievements. Yet, significant challenges are keeping in step with this historic and emerging trend. For example, can health systems adapt to growing and new demands for care? What about the sustainability of social protection schemes? How do we keep our pension systems viable? These are serious, but solvable challenges.

Solvable?

The challenges are greatest, of course, in developing countries, where the vast majority of older persons lack adequate income protection. In the absence of pension incomes or other social transfers for older persons, the risk of spending one’s older years in poverty rises sharply. Moreover, in most developing countries, poverty compels older persons to continue working as long as they are able to. But reduced capacities, limited job opportunities, low incomes and other factors often combine to reduce their earnings.

The situation is particularly acute in rural areas, and, in many contexts, affects older women more than older men. In some parts of the world, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is compounded by added responsibilities for the care of grandchildren, e.g. due to migration, disease, disability or death.

Many older persons who take on these added responsibilities are already deprived of support from their adult children that they had expected for their old age. Their own resources are often already seriously depleted when they are called upon to support their grandchildren. While additional transfers from social networks and family members, particularly children, can provide additional security for older people, these are often unstable income sources.

Social attitudes to caring for older persons are also changing, even in developing countries. As families get smaller, their ability to meet the financial and care demands of ageing members is affected at a time when, paradoxically, family support assumes greater importance as assets decline and options narrow in old age. Formal pension systems will thus need to expand as families are unable or unwilling to provide income security.

In recent decades, pension reforms in developing countries have focused on private ownership or management, ostensibly to make the systems more financially viable. In fact, many such reforms have had mixed, if not dubious results.

All this has done little for those without access to any formal pension scheme. At face value, a universal pension system in poor countries may seem utopian. However, there is a growing consensus that pensions for all are, in fact affordable, even for the poorest nations.

Some developing countries have managed to introduce social pensions that provide minimal income security to all persons in old age. These schemes are typically tax-financed rather than based on contributions made while employed.

Thanks to these schemes, everybody who has reached a certain age can get a pension, or benefits are given to all who can show they have no other means to survive. In Bolivia, Botswana and Mauritius, for example, such pensions are granted to all who have reached 65 years of age. In Argentina, Namibia and South Africa, social pension benefits are targeted at the poor.

Affordable?
Is it reasonable to use general taxpayers’ money for such purposes? Such provisions keep older persons out of poverty, and thereby facilitate their fuller participation in society. Such social pension schemes significantly contribute to poverty reduction.

In Brazil, only 3.5 per cent of older persons receiving a social pension remain poor, unlike 51 per cent of those who do not. Similarly, the universal pension scheme in Mauritius has reduced poverty among older persons by more than 40 per cent.

Moreover, such pension benefits are often shared with household and family members. For example, in Namibia, more than 70 per cent of pension income is shared among household members and spent on food and education for grandchildren.

In Bolivia, higher caloric consumption, as well as lower school drop-out rates, were recently observed in rural households benefiting from the universal pension benefit. In Brazil, the rural pension has been linked to higher expenditure on seeds and tools to support agricultural production as well as improve household access to credit.

But can poor countries afford to provide all older persons with a minimum income? According to a United Nations study, in two-thirds of developing countries, the cost of a pension benefit of that amount would cost their societies less than one per cent of national income. And, even a benefit of double the global poverty line is quite manageable, even in 2050, when the numbers of older persons will have become much larger.

It may be less affordable, though, for some of the poorest countries, which have far fewer fiscal resources and face many competing demands. In such cases, there could also be a role for the donor community, which may already be supporting education and health budgets, to also contribute by providing adequate budget support to support broader development efforts, including improved coverage of social services and social protection.

With international solidarity, a pension for all is affordable. Therefore, priorities should be set to ensure that ageing is an achievement that can be cherished by all humanity.

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Take a Deep Breath? But 9 in 10 People Worldwide Live with Excessive Air Pollution!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147149 Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

What to Do Then?

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

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

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

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

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

Indoor Air Pollution as Deadly as Outdoor Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

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

Disconnection Between People and the Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

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

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

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

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

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

A Floating Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Bigstock

By Germán Velásquez
GENEVA, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germán Velásquez

Germán Velásquez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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