Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141417 Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141397 UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141398 Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction – But Still No Debt Reliefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 03:08:06 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141317 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A major donor conference in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, “The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives.”

“This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future,” he said.

“This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient.”

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world’s 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF’s new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

“According to the most recent World Bank numbers,” said Jubilee USA in a statement, “Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake.”

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

“This is troubling news,” said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. “Given the devastation in Nepal, it’s hard to believe that the criteria was not met.”

“This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference,” said LeCompte.‎ “Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal’s debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Heat Wave Picking Off Pakistan’s Urban Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:23:52 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141304 Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.

Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time." -- Mohammad Bilal, head of the Edhi Foundation’s morgue
Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke.

Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat.

In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.

Every single resident is feeling the heat, but the majority of those who have succumbed to it come from Karachi’s army of poor, twice cursed by a lack of access to electricity and condemned to live in crowded, informal settlements that offer little respite from the scorching sun.

Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.

Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets, and likely included beggars, drug users and daily wage labourers with no choice but to defy government advisories to stay indoors until the blaze has passed.

Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

The government has come under fire for neglecting to sound the alarm in advance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah issued belated warnings by ordering the closure of schools and government offices.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

Experts say this highlights, yet again, the country’s utter lack of preparedness for climate-related tragedies.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

Energy and poverty

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation. In Karachi, the country’s most populous metropolis, these problems are magnified manifold.

Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.

More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre.

Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’.

Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual.

At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.

For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other.

Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Lashing out at the government’s indifference and belated response to the crisis, Dr. Tasneem Ahsan, former executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), tells IPS that preventive action could have saved countless lives.

“The government should have taken up large spaces like marriage halls and schools and turned them into shelters, supplying electricity and water for people to come and cool down there.”

She also says officials could have parked water bowsers in poorer localities for people to douse themselves, advised the population on appropriate clothing and distributed leaflets on simple ways to keep cool.

The media, too, are at fault, she contends, for reporting the death count like sports scores instead of spreading the word on cost-effective, life-saving tips “like putting a wet towel on the head”.

Government inaction

Intermittent protests against power outages, aimed largely at the city’s main power company, K-Electric, served as a prelude to the present tragedy.

Though the country has an installed electricity capacity of 22,797 MW, production stands at a dismal 16,000 MW. In recent years, electricity demand has risen to 19,000 MW, meaning scores of people are either sharing a single power line or going without energy.

Meanwhile, civil society has been stepping in to fill the void left by the government, with far better results than some official attempts to provide emergency relief.

With most hospitals paralyzed by the number of patients, volunteers like Dr. Tasneem Butt, working the JPMC, have taken matters into their own hands. Using social media as a platform, she has circulated a list of necessary items including 100-200 bed sheets, 500 towels, bottled water, 15-20 slabs of ice and – perhaps most importantly – more volunteers.

“I got them immediately,” she tells IPS. “Now I’ve asked people to hold on to their pledges while I arrange for chillers and air-conditioners.

“The emergency ward is suffocating,” she adds. “It’s not just the patients who need to be kept cool, even the overworked doctors need this basic environment to be able to work optimally.”

Last week, the government of the Sindh Province cancelled leave for medical personnel and brought in additional staff to cope with the deluge of patients, which is expected to increase as devout observers of the Holy Ramadan fast succumb to fatigue and hunger.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.

Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.

The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141293 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141263 Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Democracy on the Retreat in Over 96 of the 193 U.N. Member States, Says New Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:22:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141244 U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

Democracy is on the retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise in more than 96 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, according to a new report released here.

The two regions of “highest concern” for defenders of civic space are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, which between them account for over half of the countries counted."Legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents." -- Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

These violations are increasing not only in countries perceived to be democratic but also in countries with blatantly repressive regimes.

“The widespread systematic attack on these core civil society liberties has taken many forms, including assault, torture, kidnapping and assassination,” says the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report.

“We have known for some time that encroachments on civic space and persecution of peaceful activists were on the rise but it’s more pervasive than many may think,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide.

“Our monitoring in 2014 shows that legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents,” he added.

The report says while activists engaged in political reform, uncovering corruption and human rights violations continue to be targeted, those defending local communities from land grabs and environmental degradation, as well as those promoting minority group rights, have been subjected to various forms of persecution.

“The link between unethical business practices and closing civic space is becoming clearer as global inequality and capture of power and resources by a handful of political and economic elite rises. “

Advocacy for equitable sharing of natural resources and workers’ rights is becoming increasingly fraught with danger, says the report.

The examples cited range from the killings of environmental activists in Brazil to the intimidation of organisations challenging the economic discourse in India, to arbitrary detention of activists opposing oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

 

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Asked to identify some of the worst offenders, Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, told IPS : “We don’t provide a ranking of the countries’ violations, but we are able to categorise limitations on civil society activities into completely closed countries and active violators of civic freedoms.”

He said “closed countries” are where virtually no civic activity can take place due to an extremely repressive environment. These include Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

There is a second list of countries that are active violators of civil society rights – meaning they imprison, intimidate and attack civil society members and put in place all kinds of regulations to limit the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those working to uncover corruption and human rights violations, Tiwana said.

These include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report also points out some of the tactics deployed to close civic space include passing restrictive laws and targeting individual civil society organisations (CSOs) by raiding their offices, freezing their bank accounts or deregistering them.

A number of democracies are also engaging in illicit surveillance of civil society activists, further weakening respect for human rights.

Stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society activists by powerful political figures and right-wing elements remains an area of concern.

“When citizens’ most basic democratic rights are being violated in more than half the world’s countries, alarm bells must start ringing for the international community and leaders everywhere,” said Sriskandarajah.

Tiwana told IPS governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

“There appears to be no let-up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

And activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia, Tiwana pointed out, countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia have a history of repressive governance and in Thailand, where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

Asked what role the United Nations can play in naming and shaming these countries, Tiwana said the U.N. Human Rights Council has emerged as a key international forum for the protection of civic freedoms particularly through the Universal Periodic Review process where each country gets its human rights record reviewed every four years.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently collating best practices to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein has been an active supporter of civil society’s ability to operate freely, as was his predecessor, Navi Pillay, who was ardent advocate of civic freedoms, Tiwana said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Worldwide Displacement at the Highest Level Ever Recordedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:38:26 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141210 A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

A horrific year of war, humanitarian crises, human rights violations and persecution has caused a sharp rise in global forced displacement.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) released Thursday its annual report of global trends on refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and the internally displaced. The report makes for sober reading two days before World Refugee Day on June 20.

The report states that global forced displacement reached unprecedented levels in 2014, with 59.5 million people fleeing their homes worldwide. An estimated 13.9 million individuals were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres noted in a statement accompanying the report, “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria became the leading country of origin of refugees in 2014, with 95 per cent of those fleeing the country for surrounding nations. Turkey, for the first time, became the largest hosting country worldwide, with 1.59 million refugees. One million Syrians registered there in 2014.

Many Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon in 2014, where at the end of the year almost one in four inhabitants was a refugee. In April, Guterres noted that the numbers of refugees Lebanon has absorbed would be unthinkable in most Western countries.

“The equivalent of what we have in Lebanon in the United States would be more than 80 million refugees coming into the U.S.,” he said.

If the United Kingdom received the equivalent influx, it would have to accommodate more than 15 million refugees.

The report highlighted the heavy burden being shouldered by developing regions. Two decades ago, they were hosting about 70 per cent of the world’s refugees. By the end of 2014, this proportion had risen to 86 per cent – at 12.4 million persons, the highest figure in more than two decades.

The 30 countries with the largest number of refugees per one dollar GDP per capita were all members of developing regions. More than 5.9 million people, representing 42 per cent of the world’s refugees, resided in countries whose GDP per capita was below 5,000 dollars.

Rising numbers have stretched resources to the limit, with the World Food Programme suffering acute shortfalls in funding, leaving it unable to feed refugees in desperate need of support.

Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin released a statement Thursday saying, “South Sudan is on the verge of a hunger catastrophe, violence is worsening in Iraq and Syria, and there are new trouble-spots in Yemen and Nigeria. Needs increasingly outpace resources and this poses a moral and financial challenge to the international community.”

Data indicate that the number of unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum has reached levels unprecedented since at least 2006, when UNHCR started systematically collecting data of that kind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pope Could Upstage World Leaders at U.N. Summit in Septemberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:26:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141208 His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Judging by his recent public pronouncements – including on reproductive health, biodiversity, the creation of a Palestinian state, the political legitimacy of Cuba and now climate change – Pope Francis may upstage more than 150 world leaders when he addresses the United Nations, come September.

“The Pope will most likely be the headline-grabber,” predicts one longtime U.N. watcher, “particularly if he continues to be as outspoken as he has been so far.”“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” -- Pope Francis

As his mostly socio-political statements become increasingly hard-hitting, the Argentine-born Il Papa, the first Pope from the developing world, is drawing both ardent supporters and hostile critics.

Last January, during a trip to Asia, he dropped a bombshell when he said Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and stop “breeding like rabbits.”

In the United States, the Pope has been criticised by right-wing conservatives for playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, and incurred the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby for recognising Palestine as a nation state.

In fact, most of his pronouncements are closely in line with the United Nations – and specifically its socio-economic agenda.

In his 184-page Encyclical released Thursday, the Pope says “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

The Pope also complains how weak international political responses have been.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” he said.

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected, the Pope declared.

Speaking on the global environment last year, he said: “The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently warned against the devastating effects of climate change, praised Pope Francis for his papal encyclical which highlights that “climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and that it is a moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society.”

He agreed with the encyclical’s findings that there is “a very solid scientific consensus” showing significant warming of the climate system and that most global warming in recent decades is “mainly a result of human activity”.

Ban urged governments to place the global common good above national interests and to adopt an ambitious, universal climate agreement in Paris this year.

Tim Gore, Oxfam International Climate Adviser, told IPS the Pope has set out how climate change is at its most basic a moral issue – it is a deep injustice that the pollution of the world’s richest people and countries drives harmful climate disruption in the poorest communities and countries.

“Anyone that is concerned about injustice should rightly be concerned about climate change, and in making his call, the Pope joins many other leaders of faith, civil society and trade unions. Climate change is all of our business,” he said.

Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Pope Francis is crystal clear — the current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go. In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming.”

Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies, she added.

In a statement released Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation, said as Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat.

“It is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts,” Annan said.

“I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?,” he added.

In the United States, the criticisms have come mostly from right-wing conservatives, who want the Pope to confine himself to religion, not politics.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina and a strong supporter of Israel, said Pope Francis should avoid the Palestine debate altogether – the Vatican should focus on spiritual matters and stay out of politics.

Asked Tuesday, just ahead of the Pope’s statement on climate change, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency, said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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New Approaches to Managing Disaster Focus on Resiliencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:29:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141202 Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Natural disasters have become a fact of life for millions around the world, and the future forecast is only getting worse.

From super typhoons to floods, droughts and landslides, these events tend to widen existing inequalities between and within nations, often leaving the poorest with quite literally nothing."The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it." -- Chloe Demrovsky

In 2013 alone, three times as many people lost their homes to natural disasters than to war, according to a new policy brief by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The brief, which recommends incorporating accessible risk insurance into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), frames all this as a human rights issue.

“States and other actors have a duty to protect the human rights of life, livelihood and shelter of their citizens, which can be threatened by natural hazards if exposure is high and resilience low or inadequate,” the brief’s author,  Dr. Ana Gonzalez Pelaez, a fellow at the institute, told IPS.

“Insurance is an essential element in building resilience, and for insurance to operate appropriate supportive regulation needs to be in place.”

She said that at least some of these resources could be allocated as part of the adaptation measures countries will negotiate at the climate talks in Paris in December.

Earlier this month, the G7 promised to insure up to 400 million vulnerable people against risks from climate change. This could be accomplished through a combination of public, private, mutual or cooperative insurance systems.

Tom Herbstein is the programme manager of ClimateWise, whose membership includes 32 leading insurance companies. He says many are actively exploring ways to extend coverage to emerging markets and vulnerable communities.

This includes using long-term weather forecasting to support small-scale agricultural coverage, to the African Risk Capacity, established to help African Union members respond to natural disasters.

“Yet entering such markets poses many challenges,” Herbstein told IPS. “These include distribution models unsuited to high-volume, low premium insurance products; a lack of historical actuarial data; populations struggling to comprehend a financial product one might never derive benefit from; and widespread political and regulatory uncertainties.”

Ultimately, he said, if coverage of poor communities is to be mainstreamed, “an alignment between insurers, political leaders, regulators and other stakeholders will be necessary to help lessen the risks – i.e. costs – associated with entering such new and challenging markets.”

Palaez says that microinsurance is also moving further into the mainstream strategy of major commercial insurers like Alliance and Swiss Re. In January 2015, a consortium of eight global insurance institutions announced the creation of Blue Marble Microinsurance, an entity formed to open markets and deliver risk protection in underserved developing countries.

There have already been success stories. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in October 2013, CARD MBA of the Philippines paid claims to almost 300,000 customers affected by the catastrophe within five days of the event.

But some disaster experts also emphasise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And even the best intentions can have lacklustre results.

Haiti is a prime example. More than five years ago, a massive earthquake struck the Caribbean nation, already the poorest in the region, killing more than 230,000 people.

A year later, the Red Cross initiated a multimillion-dollar project called LAMIKA to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes, and amassed nearly half a billion dollars in donations. But according to a recent investigation by ProPublica, only six homes were actually built.

Chloe Demrovsky, executive director of the non-profit Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI), says aiding local communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster will never be a simple task.

“The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it,” she told IPS. “Many disasters could be prevented by focusing on preparing our communities in advance. Each disaster event presents unique challenges, so there is no option to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

“For this reason, the idea of promoting resilience is gaining ground over the traditional approach of disaster risk reduction. Resilience means the ability to bounce back from a shock. The resilience of a community in terms of disaster recovery is dependent on the resources, level of preparedness, and organizational capacity of that community.  Strong communities recover faster.”

She said that the concept of “business continuity” is a key component of building resilient systems.

“Vulnerable communities are always the hardest hit during a large-scale disaster and it is important that the government deploys enough resources quickly enough to help them recover. If the private sector is adequately prepared, that will reduce the government burden and allow them to focus resources on the most adversely affected communities.

“The private sector needs to be included in every stage of the process in order for it to be an asset rather than a potential detractor from the major goals of improving our approach to disaster aid.”

She added that it’s most useful to give cash donations rather than sending material goods, and it is preferable to give to a local organisation rather than a large international organisation with name recognition.

“The local NGO is used to working in that community, understands its unique system, and will be able to more rapidly identify its needs.  Because they are local, they will also remain in the area for the long-term even after the original outpouring of aid begins to dry up,” she pointed out.

“Finally, we need to learn from past experiences and start to prepare for the next disaster before it happens. Many tragedies can be prevented by having a good plan in place. Events happen, but disasters are man-made.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: No Place to Hide in Addishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:16:38 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141200

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

My colleagues just got back from Munich, where we held a summit bringing together over 250 young volunteers from across Europe. These youngsters campaigned in the run-up to and at the doorstep of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, as one of the key moments in a year brimming with opportunities to tackle extreme poverty.

It’s inspiring to work with these young activists – their enthusiasm and creativity are humbling. But the other thing about young people is that they don’t let anyone pull the wool over their eyes. Euphemisms don’t stick; skirting the point doesn’t get you very far. They keep us on our toes and that is not a bad thing at all.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

But some phenomena I am simply at a loss to explain. One such paradox is the fact that only a third of aid goes to the very poorest countries, and that aid to those countries has been declining. Yet in the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’, 43 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, compared to 13 percent in other countries.

This begs so many questions it is dizzying. How are we going to eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t prioritise the countries that need aid the most? What is aid for if not helping the poorest?

Why are we cutting aid to the poorest countries when it is the middle income countries that are becoming more able to mobilise their own sources of financing for development? And why aren’t leaders doing anything to reverse this perverse trend?

Instead, EU development ministers in May recommitted to the existing promise of providing 0.7 percent of national income in aid, and up to 0.2 percent of national income in aid to the least developed countries – this time “within the timeframe” of the post-2015 agenda to be adopted in September.

But even if they achieved both targets by say, 2025, that would still mean a share of only 28.6 percent of total aid going to the poorest countries. In other words: business as usual. This is where any young person would detect the glaring no-brainer, and unapologetically probe “… but isn’t that too little, too late?”Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone.

Whereas the Millennium Development Goals – global anti-poverty goals agreed in the year 2000 – allowed us to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of bringing down average levels of extreme poverty and child mortality, this year’s new set of ‘Global Goals’ is all about finishing the job.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone. We need to frontload our efforts and put the poorest and most vulnerable at the centre of our approach from the get-go.

That is why donors must commit to spending at least half of their aid on the poorest countries, and to doing this by 2020, so that those countries have time to tackle the Global Goals in time for the 2030 deadline.

This is but one of the debates that are heating up in the final weeks before the Summit in Addis Ababa in July, where world leaders will come together to decide on how to finance development. Negotiations touch upon topics that go well beyond aid, and rightly so, in an attempt to unlock new sources of financing such as domestic resource mobilisation and private sector investment.

Sadly though, many of the discussions are still being held hostage by the impasse on aid commitments. Indeed, donor countries’ laborious reaffirmation of decade-old broken promises does not inspire confidence that they are committed to doing things differently this time.

What, then, can change the game at this point? For one, let’s kick things up a level and bring in the big bosses. We fully expect heads of state to be in attendance in Addis – but even before then, the leaders of all 28 EU Member States are getting together for their own summit at the end of June.

Here they have the authority to agree on a more ambitious commitment than the development ministers managed to broker last month. Announcing an EU-wide intent to direct at least half of collective aid to the least developed countries would send a strong political message that could spark a much-needed race to the top in the final sprint towards Addis.

Another sure way to guarantee the success of this Summit is to inject more political will into the discussions that go beyond aid. For example, several countries are coming together to harness the “Data Revolution” to ensure that we collect the statistics needed to track progress and achieve the new Global Goals.

Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to measure progress. Clearly, we need to aim for more with the new Global Goals.

Further, it will be crucial to agree on minimum per capita spending levels on essential services to deliver, by 2020, a basic package for all. In order to fund these efforts, governments should increase domestic revenues towards ambitious revenue-to-GDP targets and halve the gap to those targets by 2020 by implementing fair tax policies, curbing corruption and stemming illicit flows.

The list is long and time is running out, but as our youth activists would unwaveringly note, there is still ample opportunity for leaders in both North and South to rise to the occasion and throw their weight behind ending extreme poverty. Pesky questions aside, leaders really should take note of these young voices, because it is quite literally their future world that leaders are shaping this year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Indexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141192 South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Donor Conference to Tackle Nepal Reconstructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donor-conference-to-tackle-nepal-reconstruction/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 22:32:09 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141188 A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

A family stands beside a damaged house near Naglebhare, Nepal. The housing sector bore the brunt of the April earthquake, accounting for three-fifths of all damages. Credit: Asian Development Bank/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal in April, and the numerous aftershocks that followed, left the country with losses amounting to a third of its economy.

As this South Asian nation of 27 million people struggles to get back on its feet, a major donor conference scheduled for Jun. 25 promises to bring some relief, but the extent of the disaster means that Nepal will be dealing with the fallout from the quake for a long time to come.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed." -- Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank
The country’s post-disaster needs assessment reported damages of 5.15 billion dollars, losses of 1.9 billion dollars and recovery needs of 6.6 billion dollars. The housing sector bore the brunt of the disaster, accounting for three-fifths of the damages and half of the country’s most pressing needs.

Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has called this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history. Over 8,000 lives were lost, 22,000 people were injured and over 1,000 health facilities were destroyed, according to government data.

“One in three Nepali people have been affected by the earthquakes. One in 10 has been rendered homeless,” the foreign minister said. “Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers.”

An additional three percent of the population, which amounts to roughly a million people, has been pushed into poverty because of this disaster, according to the World Bank.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on its website that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support and 1.9 million require food assistance.

Only 129 million dollars of the 422-million-dollar humanitarian appeal by United Nations have been raised.

Nepal, a developing country saddled with debts up to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and dependent on external aid, had nonetheless been making developmental and economic gains before the disaster struck.

For instance, government data indicate that the percentage of people living in poverty fell from 42 percent to 23.8 percent within the last 20 years.

“The disaster has dealt a severe blow to our aspirations,” Mahat said.

The donor conference later this month, to be held in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is expected to tackle strategies for reconstruction and the provision of financial support.

“The economy of Nepal took a huge hit from these earthquakes and there is a danger that many of the country’s impressive gains in overcoming poverty could be reversed,” said Annette Dixon, vice president for the South Asia Region at the World Bank.

“The country needs resources to pay for the recovery that can be channeled through credible programmes to make itself more resilient to the next natural disaster and ensure that those most in need receive the help they deserve.”

The conference will be jointly conducted by the Nepal government, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the government of India, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the United Nations and the World Bank.

More challenges lie ahead for Nepal as the annual monsoon season approaches, potentially displacing thousands more people. Charity groups such as CARE are scrambling to provide iron sheeting to households and those in temporary shelters to keep them dry, according to the group’s recent update.

“Our biggest priority now is to make sure we get people through the monsoon safe and dry,” said CARE shelter expert Tom Newby in the Jun. 5 release. “Families want to know how to rebuild their homes safer and better and our job is to help them do this.”

Orla Fagan, public information officer at OCHA’s Asia Pacific regional office, said in an email to IPS that providing shelter is a key concern.

“There were around 500,000 families affected and left without homes after the two earthquakes,” Fagan said, adding that greater relief efforts are needed before the country can move on to reconstruction.

Rupa Joshi, communications manager for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal, is concerned about the country’s fragile hillsides.

“The monsoon is already upon us,” Joshi said in an email to IPS. “We feel when the rain comes in, or pour like it did last week in eastern Nepal, our mountains will see numerous large landslides.”

Agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working to help children return to school, provide safe birth-centers and deliver food to people in Nepal’s hard-to-reach mountainous areas.

Meanwhile, groups like Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based NGOs and 400 faith communities, are fighting to help Nepal obtain debt relief from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which Nepal owes about 54 million dollars.

“The country pays 600,000 dollars a day [to its creditors],” Eric LeCompte, executive director of the coalition, told IPS. “It is a significant amount that can be freed up for relief efforts.”

Nepal could also qualify for assistance under the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR), which aims to relieve debt burdens of low-income countries like Nepal.

To qualify for the trust, Nepal will have to demonstrate that the natural disaster has directly affected at least one third of its population and destroyed more than a quarter of its productive capacity.

Jubilee USA Network has succeeded in securing similar debt-relief schemes for several Ebola-stricken countries by applying pressure on the IMF.

LeCompte said the Jun. 25 conference is crucial for Nepal.

“The Nepal government is expected to ask for debt relief at the conference,” LeCompte said. “It will push the decision-making process onto the banks.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in U.N. Overseas Operations?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:00:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141172 A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Back in November 2007, about 108 military personnel from an Asian country, serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were deported home after being accused of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors.

After their return, one of the expelled peacekeepers was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, rather defiantly, “What do you expect us to do when the U.N. is providing us with free condoms?”“I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour." -- Barbara Tavora-Jainchill

But then all those free condoms were being provided to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and not to encourage sexual abuse.

As a result of the widespread sexual abuse with peacekeeping missions, the United Nations plans to set up an independent review panel calling for recommendations specifically to prevent these crimes and also to hold those responsible accountable for their deeds and mete out punishments.

But as a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?

Pursuing this line of thinking, Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS, “Perhaps the U.N. should look into making it possible for U.N. peacekeepers to have their wives and girlfriends and children live with them during their deployment.”

He said he realised it would be an added expense for the U.N. to transport them and perhaps to find suitable housing on U.N. peacekeeping bases.

“But the potential benefits of cutting down on what is an epidemic — of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing the people they are sworn to protect — could be immense. It is difficult to understand why the U.N. has never thought of this before.”

Lauria also said there is a longstanding tradition throughout military history of soldiers allowing their wives to accompany them– even to the front.

Two examples are in ancient Rome and in the American Civil War. And U.N. peacekeepers are rarely in combat situations, so the logistics are simpler, he said.

Today U.S. troops stationed at bases abroad, such as in Germany or South Korea, are allowed to live with their families. The wives and girlfriends of U.N. peacekeepers could be expected to live from the salaries of the peacekeepers, perhaps with an additional stipend, he argued.

“It would be troubling for the U.N. not to look into this possibility given all the negative fallout for the organisation, not to mention the serious harm done to the victims of U.N. peacekeeper’s sexual abuse,” said Lauria.

When he raised this issue at a press briefing last week, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that virtually all of the peacekeeping operations, with a couple of exceptions like Cyprus, are “non‑family duty stations for the civilian staff.”

“You raise a point that’s interesting, that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe uniformed peacekeepers or police officers are able to bring their spouses along,” he said.

Pressed further by Lauria, Dujarric said: “I think I see where… where you’re going, but I think the issue of abuse of power, of sexual abuse needs to be fought, regardless of what those rules may be.”

Since the United Nations has no political or legal authority to penalise military personnel, most of them escape punishment for their criminal activities because national governments have either refused or have been slow in meting out justice within their own court systems.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS that as far as it concerns U.N. civilian staff, “I’m not sure you can draw a link between the two.”

“We have over 21,000 civilian colleagues in field and peacekeeping operations, doing a great job and almost all in what are called non-family duty stations. Yet reported sexual abuse by staff, while horrific, remains extremely low,” he said.

Three staff were reported, investigated and fired for sexual abuse last year.

“So these are very specific cases rather than a generalised trend. All U.N. staff are aware of the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and sign a declaration on this when they’re recruited.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that absent spouses is an issue in this sense. In any case, non-family duty stations are declared as such because they are in conflict zones or prone to rebel or terrorist activity. They’re not places to bring spouses or children,” Richards added.

A U.N. staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS there were some U.N. civilian staffers, based in a virtual war zone in Iraq, who housed their families in neighbouring Kuwait, but at their own expense.

But staffers serving in these missions are well remunerated with “hazard pay allowances” (HPA) and “mission subsistence allowances” (MSA).

A senior U.N. official told IPS it is very unlikely that wives and families will be permitted in overseas missions, specifically high risk missions, because it would be difficult to ensure their security (and it will double or triple the U.N.’s current burden of protecting staffers).

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS even though being away from the family brings stress, “I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour.

“Accountability should be strengthened in peacekeeping and political missions and the U.N. should adopt a serious whistleblower policy, because sometimes whistleblowers are the ones who make accountability possible,” she added.

Meanwhile a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, chaired by former President of Timor-Leste Ramos-Horta, has released a report with a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.N. peace operations and the emerging needs of the future.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ramos-Horta emphasised the United Nations had “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”

He said sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rocks and undermines the most important power the United Nations possesses: its integrity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Act on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 10:13:32 +0000 Edwin Gariguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141165 Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

By Edwin Gariguez
MANILA, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

My country, the Philippines, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Even though we are among those countries that hardly contributed emissions and benefited least from burning fossil fuels, we find ourselves at the frontline of the climate crisis.

The catastrophe we experienced from Super Typhoon Haiyan [in early November 2013], one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, which killed thousands and damaged billions of properties, is proof to this. Almost two years later, our people are still struggling to recover from its devastating impact.“If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart”

It should therefore not come as a surprise that concern about climate change is higher in the Philippines than elsewhere. A recent public consultation showed that 98 percent of Filipinos are “very concerned” about the impacts of climate change, compared with a global average of around 78 percent.

The Church cannot remain a passive bystander. It is our moral imperative to give voice to the voiceless.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has pronounced its strong opposition to coal mining because it will make our country contribute to climate change, and endanger ecosystems as well as the health and lives of people.

Our churches have often led the struggles against dirty energy. In my hometown of Atimonan, Quezon, for example, more than 1,500 protesters led by church leaders staged a demonstration against a proposed coal-fired power plant last week.

Similarly, Catholic priests in Batangas are at the forefront of the fight against the construction of a new coal power plant. Last month, about 300 priests held a prayer rally ahead of a committee hearing that discussed the project.

Pope Francis also understands that climate change is not only an environmental issue but a matter of justice. His upcoming encyclical is anticipated to bring the link between climate change and the poor to centre stage.

In the Philippines, we are grateful that Pope Francis came to visit and held mass in areas hit the hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

We admire him for standing in solidarity with us, using his position to inject momentum for faith communities around the world to take a moral stance on climate change.

A papal encyclical is an extraordinary way to send a powerful message to world leaders whose actions to date lag far behind the scale of the response that is necessary.

We hope that the Pope’s message will remind world leaders of their moral duty to act as we approach the climate summit in Paris [in December], where a new international climate agreement is supposed to be reached.

The moral imperative to act could not be stronger and the world now needs to stand united in the face of the climate crisis that knows no geographic boundaries, while the worst impacts still can be avoided.

Through the Pope’s encyclical, the Church will raise critical issues that need to be taken into account in the global response to this unprecedented threat.

Global capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty by burning fossil fuels. On the flipside, it has also created vast inequalities and sacrificed the environment for the sake of short-term gain. Now is the time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels over our lives and the planet.

If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart.

The Pope’s critique of today’s destructive, fossil-fuel dependent economy will not go down well with the powerful interests that benefit from today’s status quo.

But we, the Church and the people of the Philippines, will stand alongside the Pope as strong allies in the struggle for a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually rich world that Pope Francis and the broader climate movement are fighting for.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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World’s Nuke Arsenal Declines Haltingly While Modernisation Rises Rapidlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:59:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141136 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, held by nine states, just got a little smaller.

But modernisation continues to rise rapidly, warns the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its annual 2015 Yearbook released Monday."An opportunity has been lost to push for a safer Middle East without weapons of mass destruction." -- Tariq Rauf of SIPRI

The study said the total number of nuclear warheads in the world is declining, primarily due to the United States and Russia continuing to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

“But this is at a slower pace compared with a decade ago,” the Yearbook said.

At the same time, both countries have “extensive and expensive” long-term modernisation programmes under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production.

Currently, there are nine states—the United States, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – armed with approximately 15,850 nuclear weapons, of which 4,300 were deployed with operational forces.

Roughly 1,800 of these weapons are being kept in a state of high operational alert.

“Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, the modernisation programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future,” says SIPRI Senior Researcher Shannon Kile.

Asked for her response, Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and who serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS the disheartening news from SIPRI’s report is that all nine nuclear weapons states are modernising their nuclear arsenals – and particularly the five major nuclear weapons states: the United States, Russia, UK, France and China.

All five countries, she pointed out, actually pledged, in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was extended indefinitely in 1995, “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

Nevertheless, this disregard of promises given and repeated at successive five-year NPT review conferences – with the U.S., for example, projecting expenditures of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, missiles, planes and submarines to deliver newly designed nuclear weapons – has given fresh impetus to an international campaign by non-nuclear weapons states to negotiate a treaty to ban the bomb, declaring nuclear weapons illegal and prohibited – just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons, said Slater.

Besides the United States and Russia, SIPRI said the nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so.

In the case of China, this may involve a modest increase in the size of its nuclear arsenal, said SIPRI.

India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon production capabilities and developing new missile delivery systems.

North Korea appears to be advancing its military nuclear programme, but its technical progress is difficult to assess based on open sources, according to the Yearbook.

The latest SIPRI report follows the failure of an NPT review conference in New York last month.

Tariq Rauf, SIPRI’s director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, expressed disappointment over the failure of the review conference in which 161 states participated “with little to show for their effort.”

He said agreement on a final document was blocked by the United States, with the support of Britain and Canada – “their reason being that they were adamantly opposed to putting pressure on Israel to attend an international conference in March 2016 to ban nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles in the region of the Middle East”.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has never joined the NPT and is reported to have nuclear weapons, he pointed out.

Other important issues discussed at the conference included the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW), an initiative supported by 159 non-nuclear-weapon States drawing on the results of international conferences held in Oslo (2013), Nayarit (2014) and Vienna (2014) – where it was made clear that no State, no international relief organisation nor any other entity has the capacity to deal with the humanitarian, environmental, food and socio-economic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation.

These States called for a legally-binding prohibition on nuclear weapons, such as the prohibitions on biological and chemical weapons.

The five declared nuclear-weapon States – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, also the veto-wielding members of the Security Council – rejected all such demands and firmly insisted that their nuclear weapons were not at any risk of accidental or deliberate detonation.

“Thus, an opportunity has been lost to push for a safer Middle East without weapons of mass destruction, and for steps leading to the global elimination of nuclear weapons – at least until the next five-yearly NPT Review Conference in held in 2020,” Rauf added.

No one should take any comfort in this, neither the 192 parties to the NPT nor the non-parties, India, Israel and Pakistan, because the dangers of nuclear weapons affect everyone on this planet, said Rauf, a former senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2012) dealing with nuclear verification, non-proliferation and disarmament.

Slater told IPS there has been a successful series of conferences with civil society and governments over the past two years – in Norway, Mexico and Austria – to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequence of nuclear war.

At the recent NPT, which broke up in failure without a consensus document, 107 nations signed on to a humanitarian pledge, offered by Austria, to “fill the legal gap” for nuclear disarmament.

Unwilling to be held hostage to the “security” concerns of the nuclear weapons states, the non-nuclear weapons states have pledged to press forward to outlaw nuclear weapons without them.

She said South Africa was particularly eloquent, comparing the current regime of nuclear haves and have-nots to a form of “nuclear apartheid”.

After the 70th anniversary of the tragic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is expected that negotiations will begin, she said.

While some argue that this would be ineffective without the participation of the nuclear weapons states, great pressure will be brought to bear on the “weasel” states, who mouth their fealty to nuclear disarmament, while sheltering in military alliances under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, said Slater.

Last week, the Dutch parliament, a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) state, dependent on U.S. nuclear protection, voted to support the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap.

“One should expect more weakening of the nuclear phalanx, striding the world and holding us all hostage, as NATO states and Asian allies relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence feel the approbation of a vibrant grassroots campaign, around the world, working for a ban treaty,” said Slater.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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