Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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What Future for the ACP-EU Partnership Post-2015?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138244 The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

“There are still prospects for a meaningful ACP-EU partnership, capable of contributing and responding concretely and effectively to the objectives of promoting and attaining peace, security, poverty eradication and sustainable development,” according to the top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni was speaking at the 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers held here from Dec. 9 to 12, during which ACP and European Union representatives took the opportunity to renew their commitment to working closely together, particularly in crafting a common strategy for the post-2015 global development agenda.

Besides discussing trade issues, development finance, humanitarian crises and the current Ebola crisis, the two sides also tackled future perspectives and challenges for the ACP itself and for its partnership with the European Union.“We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda … is so valuable” – European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica

It was agreed that comprehensive cooperation built on collaborative approaches, creative methods and innovative interventions in all the countries of the ACP will be the inspiration for a joint initiative in 2015, in the context of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lomé Convention, the trade and aid agreement between the ACP and the European Community first signed in February 1075 in Lomé, Togo, and the forerunner to the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Union will also be celebrating European Year for Development in 2015, which is also the deadline year for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The convergence of these three events, and the anticipated adoption by the international community of the development framework which is to replace the MDGs, “together represent a unique opportunity for the ACP and the European Union to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that they have and continue to strive for impactful relations in the future,” said Bhoendratt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, who chairs the ACP Ministerial Committee on Development Finance Cooperation.

While acknowledging the current economic and financial difficulties being experienced by the European Union and the efforts under way to address them, it was stressed that these do not undermine the validity and strength of the ACP-EU partnership, that the rationale behind the partnership remains valid and that efforts must be redoubled for mutual benefit.

Proof of the commitment to help ACP countries meet the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement was identified in the concrete efforts being undertaken by both sides to improve the quality of life of the most impoverished and vulnerable countries – as  well as other countries, including middle income and upper middle income countries – of the ACP which continue to experience serious developmental challenges.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said that the post-2015 development agenda and the post-Cotonou framework – to succeed the current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000 – “will shape development policy for the next decade.”

“We can agree on the need for an enhanced approach, building further on our partnership, incorporating overarching principles, such as respect for fundamental values, and taking account of specific realities in countries and regions,” he told the meeting.

The New EU Commission and EDF Programming

The Council of Ministers’ session was also the occasion for ACP members to meet with members of the new European Commission, which took office on Nov. 1, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Development Commissioner Mimica as well as European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

Under the new Commission, the eleventh edition of the European Union’s main instrument for providing development aid to ACP countries, the European Development Fund, has been approved for the period 2014-2020 fora total of 31.5 billion euro, but has not yet entered into force.

Pending a further six ratifications on the European side, which are expected by mid-2015, a “bridging facility” amounting to 1.5 billion euro sourced from unused funds from previous EDFs, will allow priority actions to continue in ACP countries in 2014 and 2015.

To date, 53 national indicative programmes (worth up to 10 billion euro for the period 2014-2020) have been signed, with the remaining programmes to be signed by early 2015.

At the regional level, there is broad agreement on the content – sectors and financial breakdown – of the programmes, which should be signed by the first semester of 2015. The Intra-ACP cooperation strategy will be also be adopted and signed during the first semester of 2015.

“But we must not be complacent,” said Mimica. “We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was adopted last June in Nairobi, is so valuable.”

The Joint Declaration represents the springboard for building greater consensus and contributing towards meaningful and ambitious outcomes in July and September next year, looking forward to a post-Cotonou framework.

“Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player”

Meanwhile, the ACP Group is currently reflecting on its institutional aspects, such as leadership, organizational mandate, and implementation of reforms which aim at making it a more effective and accountable stakeholder in the international political context, while working on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development in member states.

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Dr Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

An Eminent Persons Group has been established and a report will be presented to the next ACP Summit with the aim of identifying the most suitable strategic approach for ACP to be more effective, more visible, more accountable in a world of partnership and ownership, incorporating overarching principles such as respect for fundamental values and taking into account the specificities of the realities in countries and regions.

An important sign of the ACP institutional change was also launched during the 100th Council of Ministers with the appointment of the new Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, who will head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a landmark period covering the latest part of the ACP partnership agreement with the European Union.

Appointment of the Secretary General generally follows a principle of rotation among the six ACP regions – West Africa (currently holding the post), East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Gomes is the Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium and the country representative to the WTO, FAO, and the IFAD.

Gomes has led various high-level ambassadorial committees in the ACP system, currently serving as Chair of the Working Group on Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, which transmitted a final report on “Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player” during the ACP Council of Ministers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Afghan Concern Over Western Disengagementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:09:03 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138230 Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The U.S./NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command lowered its flag for the last time in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, after 13 years. The ISAF mission officially ends on Dec. 31, and will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2015 by “Resolute Support”, a new, narrow-mandate mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.

However, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently pledged continuing assistance for years to come,here in Kabul many fear that donor interest in the country may now start waning and that Afghanistan will likely drop out of the spotlight because history has already shown that, when troops pull out of a country, funds tend to follow.

“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole ‘Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a leading civil society actor and Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), told IPS.“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole 'Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own” – Mir Ahmad Joyenda, Deputy Director of Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased more than four-fold between 2003 and 2012, but economic growth was largely driven by international investments and aid.

Since the U.S.-led military intervention of 2001, Afghanistan has been the focus of large international aid and security investments, being the world’s leading recipient of development assistance since 2007, Lydia Poole notes in Afghanistan Beyond 2014. Aid and the Transformation Decade, a briefing paper prepared for the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme which provides data and analysis on humanitarian financing and related aid flows.

According to data collected by the author, “the country received 50.7 billion dollars in official development assistance (ODA) between 2002 and 2012, including 6.7 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance”, and ODA “has steadily increased from 1.1 billion dollars in 2002 to 6.2 billion in 2012.”

On Dec. 4, delegations from 59 countries and several international organisations gathered for the ‘London Conference on Afghanistan’, co-hosted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, to reaffirm donor humanitarian and development commitments to the war-torn country.

The London Conference served as a follow up to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in 2012, where the international community pledged 16 billion dollars to support Afghanistan’s civilian development financing needs through 2015, based on an agreement known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF).

In London, the international community reaffirmed its Tokyo commitment and the vague willingness to “support, through 2017, at or near the levels of the past decade”.

However, the London Conference “produced no new pledges of increased aid, so the drop in domestic revenues to 8.7 percent of gross domestic product, down from a peak of 11.6 percent in 2011, leaves Afghanistan with a severe and growing fiscal gap”, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, remarked in a meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With the imminent withdrawal of NATO troops, the Afghan economy is already under strain, “We estimate that growth has fallen sharply to 1.5 percent in 2014 from an average of 9 percent during the previous decade”, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, stated on Dec. 4 in London.

Furthermore, many indicators from the 2015 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview Report of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that there is still a considerable humanitarian emergency: “1.2 million children are acutely malnourished; approximately 2.2 million Afghans are considered very severely food insecure; food insecurity affects nearly 8 million people with an additional 2.4 million classified as severe, and 3.1 million are moderately food insecure.”

Despite the many risks associated with Western disengagement, Joyenda prefers to emphasise the opportunities, advocating a fundamental shift of attitude: “The international community should use this opportunity to have a rebalancing of priorities: ‘less money for security and weapons, more money for civilian cooperation and reconstruction’,” he told IPS.

Since 2011, the primary focus of international expenditure in Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly security. When international troop levels were at their peak at 132,000 in 2011, “spending on the two international military operations – the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) – reached 129 billion dollars, compared with 6.8 billion dollars in ODA, of which 768 million dollars was humanitarian assistance”, writes Poole.

“We also need a proper alignment of funds with the State’s economic planning,” Nargis Nehan, Executive Director and founder of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a non-governmental organisation advocating equal rights for all Afghan citizens, told IPS.

According to Nehan, “the international community made the State a less legitimate actor through the creation of parallel structures. Millions of dollars for example have been directed to development and humanitarian projects via the Provincial Reconstruction Teams”, which consisted of a mix of military, development and civilian components, conflating development/humanitarian aid with the agendas of foreign political and security actors.

“The political framework was never adequate,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director and co-founder of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, told IPS. “Over the past few years the international community was busier – at least at the government level – with preparing the withdrawal and designing a positive narrative, rather than with the Afghans left behind.”

“Afghanistan has been a rentier-State for one hundred and fifty years, and will be dependent on external support for quite a while. In this phase we have to lighten the country’s donor dependency, we cannot just walk away. We have the political responsibility to keep to our commitments,” he noted.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138188 Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:02:28 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138181 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are urging the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring nuclear strikes on cities to be a clear-cut violation of international humanitarian law.

At the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supporters of the proposed resolution argued that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is undeniable that the explosion of a nuclear weapon on a populated area would engender destruction beyond acceptable human limits.“The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the 'incremental steps' towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes?" -- Jonathan Granoff

“There are over 6,000 cities already members of our campaign called Cities Are Not Targets! declaring it illegal to target cities with nuclear weapons,” said Aaron Tovish, campaign director for Mayors for Peace.

“This initiative to have the bodies of the United Nations explicitly outlaw such conduct is of great value,” he said.

Proponents argue that just raising the issue would bring a dose of reality into the debate about the threat of nuclear weapons, and that a GA resolution calling on the Security Council to affirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons on populated areas under international humanitarian law (IHL) could be a real, practical step to advance nuclear disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute, said that other uses also violate international law but there should be no question that destroying a city is illegal.

Granoff told IPS, “Pending obtaining a legal ban, a convention, or a framework of instruments leading to nuclear disarmament, which is required by the promises made by the nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, this step would make us all a bit safer and downgrade the political status of these horrible devices.”

Is a resolution necessary?

In recent years, it has become apparent that failure to fulfill promised progress on nuclear disarmament has been caused by deeply entrenched security policies that do not seem likely to change.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have raised hopes of further nuclear disarmament, yet this has flown in the face of a reality in which nuclear weapons states continue to either modernise or expand their arsenals, or do both.

Nuclear states agree that the warheads are bad (often recognising a legal responsibility to disarm), yet critics note that in an act of impressive cognitive dissonance, these states simultaneously advance that they are good because they are necessary for deterrence purposes and strategic stability, the disturbance of which could be bad.

Thus, while they exist, so these states say, it is good to rely on them.

China, Russia, the UK, U.S. and France have agreed they have a legal responsibility to disarm, based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.

India has called for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on a universal, nondiscriminatory, treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and Pakistan has said it would join such a process. Israel has said nothing.

In 2000, 13 steps were agreed upon to move towards disarmament – and then in 2010, 64 additional commitments were made by 188 states.

Yet despite the non-realisation of these incremental moves towards disarmament, the nuclear weapons states maintain that any other attempt to delegitimise, ban, and eliminate the warheads is a distraction.

Proponents of the resolution like Granoff see it as a step forward towards extrication from the situation.

Granoff told IPS, “The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the ‘incremental steps’ towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes? Will it provide impetus to get a ban on testing, fissile materials, and more cuts of arsenals?”

Criticism of the proposal

The proposal is likely to face robust criticism from nuclear weapons states and those under the “umbrella of deterrence” (those states allied to a nuclear power that claim to be protected by affiliation).

Speaking to IPS, former deputy judge advocate general, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. expressed reservations about the advancement of such a resolution.

Dunlap remains unconvinced on the question of whether there is an authoritative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons in IHL, saying, “It sounds as if Mr. Granoff assumes that IHL applicable to the use of conventional weapons would automatically apply to the use of nuclear weapons. This is incorrect.

“In fact, even some of the countries which are parties (as the U.S. and some other nuclear powers are not) to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which contains targeting rules) made an express reservation to it to the effect that it did not govern the use of nuclear weapons.”

These legal arguments are hotly contested, however. Proponents of the resolution point to the final document from the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 which “reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Those in support of the proposal seem undeterred. Alyn Ware of the World Future Council told IPS, “I think it’s a good proposal. I don’t think it’s the only path. The idea of ‘non-first use’ also has traction.”

Ware stands in opposition to Dunlap, saying “A nuclear weapon has a much larger blast impact than conventional weapons. The blast impact can’t be contained to a specific military target.

“If it’s far away from populated areas, then maybe it will not violate IHL, but there would still be enormous problems with fall out and controlling its trajectory… but you can’t even make the argument when it’s in a populated area.”

IPS spoke to former Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, Randy Rydell, who said, “The nuclear powers will almost certainly try to deal with this humanitarian campaign by diverting it onto the track of “arms control” — namely, we need to improve the safety and security of nukes and “keep them out of the wrong hands”.

Both arguments divert attention from the risks inherent in such weapons, in anybody’s “hands”.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Hiroshima, Nagasaki Cast Shadow Over Nuclear Conference in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:28:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138126 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was at Harvard University early this week to pick up the ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award, his thoughts transcended the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Austrian capital of Vienna which will be the venue of a key international conference on nuclear weapons next week.

But this time around, the focus will be on the “humanitarian impact” of the deadly use of any one of the over 16,300 nuclear weapons that still exist nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War."We may not hear much about next April's NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that's what it's about." -- Dr. Joseph Gerson

“A single detonation of a modern nuclear weapon would cause destruction and human suffering on a scale far exceeding the devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” warns Austria, the host country for the conference.

The 70th anniversary of those destructive U.S. bombings in Japan will be commemorated in Hiroshima next year.

In his acceptance speech, the secretary-general told the Harvard audience the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is attracting growing attention – as he singled out the Vienna conference due to take place Dec. 8-9.

The last two conferences on the same theme took place in Oslo, Norway in March 2013, and in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014.

Ban said people are also asking why the world’s nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernise arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist,” he lamented.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States alone plans to spend about 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years just to modernise its nuclear arsenal.

And the total estimated cost for modernisation of weapons over the next 30 years is a staggering one trillion dollars.

Asked about the possible outcome of the Vienna conference, Dr. M.V. Ramana, associate research scholar, Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told IPS, “My hope is that people will come out of the Vienna conference with a continued resolve to eliminate these weapons, not in the distant future as the nuclear weapons states keep promising, but in the near future.”

Referring to the secretary-general’s speech, he said: “It is refreshing to hear a high official speak with such candour. I would like to especially underline what he said: ‘Ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons and add that all nuclear weapons are wrong weapons.’”

His statement that the nuclear weapon states do not have disarmament plans is also sadly spot on, said Dr. Ramana, author of ‘Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion’.

Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS, “We expect that the outcome of the Vienna conference will reflect the demand from the overwhelming majority of states that we must take concerted action now in response to the evidence about the risks and impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation.”

The logical conclusion of the evidence-based gatherings in Oslo and Nayarit – and now Vienna – is to launch a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons, she added.

“A treaty banning nuclear weapons would advance nuclear disarmament through its normative force and practical effects,” she said.

The Vienna conference may not launch such a process but it can help set the stage by presenting irrefutable evidence about the dangers of nuclear weapons, challenging the idea that nuclear weapons have any value for defence or deterrence, and providing space for governments, international organisations, and civil society to examine the legal landscape and suggest ways forward, said Acheson.

Dr. Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Programme at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), told IPS, “We may not hear much about next April’s NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that’s what it’s about.”

With the success of the Review Conference in doubt – given the P-5′s resistance to fulfilling their Article VI obligation to begin good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and the failure of the United States to co-convene the promised 2012 Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone (Weapons of Mass Destruction) conference – the Austrian government’s goal is to build positive momentum going into the Review Conference, he added.

The P5 comprises the United States, UK, France, China and Russia, the world’s five major nuclear powers, who are also the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Dr. Gerson said recognising that nuclear weapons abolition cannot be negotiated without the active participation of the nuclear powers, Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, placed a high premium on winning their participation, especially the U.S. and Britain, who now have bragging rights over Russia, China and France.

“The price paid was Austria’s commitment to limit the conference to educational discourse,” he said.

Dr. Gerson said those who demand action steps will be violating their invitations and will have little impact on the chair’s summary, which will lack the bite of Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo’s summary at Nayarit conference.

“And it will be interesting to see if and how – after their boycotts of the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences – the presence of the Anglo-American nuclear powers leads some to bite their tongues,” he added.

Dr. Gerson also predicted the Vienna conference may reinforce commitments of some to work for abolition, but the men and women of power and most of humanity have known the essentials since the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Most will speak diplomatically, but the hypocrisy of bemoaning the human consequences of nuclear weapons while Washington spends one trillion dollars to modernise its nuclear arsenal and to replace its delivery systems, Britain moves toward Trident replacement, and Russia relies increasingly on its nuclear arsenal in face of NATO’s expansion, will hang heavy over the conference,” he declared.

The government of Austria says nine states (the P5 plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) are believed to possess nuclear weapons, “but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”

Dr. Ramana told IPS delegates to next week’s meeting will certainly be aware that next year will be the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the bombings “that first made us realise the utterly horrendous nature of the humanitarian consequences of the use of even one or two nuclear weapons”.

“What we do need to remember is that 2015 will also be the seventieth anniversary of the anti-nuclear peace movement,” he reminded.

“Just as nuclear weapons haven’t gone away, the movement challenging these weapons of mass destruction hasn’t gone away,” he added.

Dr. Gerson said governments will position themselves, rehearsing their arguments in the run up to the NPT Review. Meanwhile, out of earshot, serious side discussions will take place to frame and influence next April’s diplomacy.

“Civil society will speak truth to power. We’ll also be drawing on our contacts to build popular force behind our demands that April’s NPT Review mandate the commencement of Article VI’s good faith negotiations to eliminate the world’s omnicidal nuclear arsenals.”

One certain outcome, he said: the Human Consequences process will have been kept alive, to be revisited following April’s NPT Review Conference.

Acheson told IPS that Ban’s remarks at Harvard highlight “why we can no longer afford to wait for leadership from the nuclear-armed states”.

She said their plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals, extending the lives of these weapons of mass destruction into the indefinite future, demonstrate they are not willing to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. “We can’t afford to keep waiting for leadership from nuclear-armed states.”

Acheson said a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons can and should be negotiated by those states ready to do so, even if the states with nuclear weapons are not ready to participate.

“The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks has already been cited as the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal of launching a new diplomatic process,” Acheson declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Football Stars Join ‘Africa United’ Campaign to Stop Spread of Ebolahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 19:31:19 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138070 “There is Strength in Unity” – public service message for the ‘Africa United’ campaign to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Credit: African Press Organization (APO)

“There is Strength in Unity” – public service message for the ‘Africa United’ campaign to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Credit: African Press Organization (APO)

By Kwame Buist
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has joined a number of football stars, celebrities, international health organisations and corporations in the ‘Africa United’ global health communications campaign aimed at preventing the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

The campaign, which was launched on Dec. 3, is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation and driven creatively by actor Idris Elba, is designed to recognise the vital role of front-line healthcare workers, as well as to provide critical education and resources for the people of West Africa.

Educational messages will be delivered on local and national radio and TV, billboards and by SMS to audiences in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries.“Imagine having to sit down and tell your family that you were going to fight this disease. That conversation is happening across West Africa and around the world every day. I am in awe of the bravery of these health workers, who put their lives at risk day in and out to stop the spread of this terrible disease” – actor Idris Elba

In ”West Africa vs Ebola”, a video which has been prepared for the campaign, Elba stars as a soccer coach giving a rousing and educational team talk to a West Africa team in preparation for its “life or death” game against Ebola. Elba explains the symptoms of Ebola and tactics for how to beat the virus, which includes spreading the word and working as a team.

“I wanted to support this campaign for so many reasons. I could not sit back without doing something to help fight Ebola,” said Yaya Touré, Ivorian professional football (soccer) player. “It is important we don’t treat this as something we just discuss with work colleagues or simply follow on the news for updates – instead our focus should be to do something.”

“I also wanted to get involved with this campaign as it pays tribute to the many, many African heroes who are in the villages, towns and cities using their skills, resourcefulness and intelligence to battle Ebola. Those people on the front line are often forgotten. African mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are doing everything they can to fight Ebola – we have to support them.”

In a TV spot titled ”We’ve Got Your Back”, Elba and a group of football players committed to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, including Yaya Touré, Carlton Cole, Kei Kamara, Patrick Vieira, Fabrice Muamba and Andros Townsend, voice their solidarity with the healthcare workers who are risking their lives every day to fight Ebola.

In the video, the players acknowledge that, although fans regard them as heroes, healthcare workers tackling Ebola are the true heroes. Each player wears the name of a healthcare worker on his back as a symbol of respect for “the world’s most important team.”

“For me the battle against Ebola is a personal one,” said Elba, actor and the creative force behind the development of the campaign public service announcements. “To see those amazing countries in West Africa where my father grew up and my parents married being ravaged by this disease is painful and horrific.”

“Imagine having to sit down and tell your family that you were going to fight this disease. That conversation is happening across West Africa and around the world every day. I am in awe of the bravery of these health workers, who put their lives at risk day in and out to stop the spread of this terrible disease.”

“My hope,” Elba added, “is that, in some small way, through the development of these public service announcements and the creation of the Africa United campaign, we can ensure that these workers get the support they need and that health messages are delivered to people on the ground to help them in their fight.”

The video spots and other multimedia educational materials are being made available on the campaign website in English, French, Krio and additional local languages.

The educational materials are designed to be adapted and distributed by Africa United partners such as ministries of health, health clinics, government and non-governmental organisations, media and sports organisations.

These include the CDC Foundation and current partners Africa 24, SuperSport, ONE, UNICEF and Voice of America. CDC staff working in the affected countries contributed to the development and distribution of the health messages, and Africa United will continue to develop and provide messages to CDC and partners in real time based on changing needs.

The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, infecting nearly 16,000 people with more than 5,600 deaths to date. While the spread of Ebola is a threat to people, health systems and economies around the globe, West African communities in particular are being crippled by the disease as a result of already-strained healthcare systems, mistrust of healthcare workers and fear and stigmatisation of those infected.

“Private and public partnerships like Africa United are critical to aligning organisations fighting Ebola and to ensuring quick, effective responses to changing circumstances and needs,” said Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

“The CDC Foundation remains committed to advancing response efforts in West Africa through public education and resources for use on the front lines of the Ebola battle.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Athens Sit-in Highlights Catch-22 for Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 13:31:13 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138012 Sit-in of Syrian migrants in Athens, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Sit-in of Syrian migrants in Athens, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Nov 29 2014 (IPS)

A sit-in protest by Syrian refugees on Syntagma Square opposite the Greek parliament in the heart of Athens has turned into a demonstration of the stalemate faced by both Greek as well as European immigration policy.

About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries to the northwest of Greece.“Given that the refugee population will keep increasing, it is necessary to identify appropriate policy initiatives to promote integration now. This is necessary both for refugees as well as for social cohesion in Greece” – Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece

Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Tens have already been transferred to hospital to be treated for minor symptoms, mostly due to hypothermia. Medical incidents have increased after many of the protestors decided to start a hunger strike six days ago.

Throughout the protest, the Greek authorities have been communicating with them, repeating the official line that there exist no legal provisions for travelling to other European countries unless they have formally acquired refugee status.

However most of the Syrians taking part in the sit-in appear unwilling to apply for asylum in Greece.

They have refused to do so even after it was made clear to them that asylum would be granted to them with fast track procedures. This would help secure the travelling documents, which they desperately want, but at the same time would deprive them of the right to seek asylum in other European countries in which refugees enjoy access to better integration services.

Indeed, the Greek authorities are facing a unique situation. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Interior, Aggelos Syrigos, told IPS from Syntagma Square where the protest is taking place that the situation seems irresolvable. “We explained to them that what they ask is not possible. We advised them to apply for asylum, so we can offer shelter to families. Many of them seem to believe that other Europeans can intervene to resolve their problem, which is not the case,”

Some years ago, when Greece was receiving mostly economic migrants, the country implemented a policy that limited access to asylum claims because irregular migrants were abusing the system.

Syrian migrants protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Syrian migrants protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

The crisis transformed the country into a non-desirable destination for refugees and migrants. Now it appears to be the authorities that are pushing refugees, which are the vast majority of arrivals these days, to enter the system and claim asylum.

The change in policy came after the authorities established an effective asylum system in cooperation with UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, and after pressure from the European Commission on the country’s authorities.

But this change of policy has not been followed up by establishment of the effective integration services and infrastructure that the country needs.

A recent reportby the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) on the cost-effectiveness of irregular migration control policy in Greece between 2007 and 2013 shows that Greece has prioritised an expensive system of border controls, detention and returns.

It has invested most of the available resources from European funds and the national budget in such a system at the expense of a less costly and more proactive system without such punitive measures. As a result, it now lacks facilities that would help manage new waves of arrivals.

The Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, told IPS that Greece never really attempted to implement an integration policy in the first place, but now, “given that the refugee population will keep increasing, it is necessary to identify appropriate policy initiatives to promote integration now. This is necessary both for refugees as well as for social cohesion in Greece.”

Tsarbopoulos believes that the government’s decision to precondition any protection offered to Syrian protestors on first applying for asylum might prove counterproductive by polarising the situation.

Many Syrians who come from an urban middle class background understand that claiming asylum in Greece will connect them to a future that leads to social marginalisation, a situation that they clearly find very difficult to accept.

A few nights ago, this correspondent was party to a conversation between Mohammed A., who has been sleeping rough in Syntagma Square since the beginning of the sit-in, and a Greek man, both of the same age.

The conversation ended with the Syrian saying: “I don’t want anything from Greece. What I want is just to be able to go where I want. You can go anywhere you want. I want this too.”

Both Syrigos and Tsarbopoulos agreed not only that the issue will deteriorate but also that the time frame for adequate solutions is limited.

According to the latest official Greek estimates, more than 5000 Syrians entered Greece last month and just a few days ago Greece sent a military search and rescue operation south to Crete to save an immobilised container ship believed to be carrying about 700 refugees.

The Greek Council of Refugees issued a response to the government’s position to push Syrians to submit asylum applications. According to the organisation, the asylum process “should not be a tool and a prerequisite for the provision of material reception conditions and immediate humanitarian assistance to people fleeing war conflicts”.

In an analytical press release circulated by UNHCR Greece five days ago, Europe is being urged to open legal pathways for refugees and start a dialogue on a Europe-wide refugee solution that puts the emphasis on solidarity among the European Union’s member states.

For two years, the Greek government, together with Italy and Malta, has repeatedly been asking the European Council to discuss responsibility-sharing between member states in the north of Europe and those in the south, but this has not yet happened.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 Arturo Lopez-Levy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137922 A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

By Arturo Lopez-Levy
DENVER, Colorado, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When was the last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century.Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favourably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t squander the opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests.

A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalisation in Cuba.

The whole world has something to gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud.

The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

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. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be contacted at Alopezca@du.edu or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Concerned Over Ebola Backlashhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:36:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137797 Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is working on an emergency footing to battle the outbreak of Ebola, is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa.

“It’s a psychological fear,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told IPS. “And there has been a chain reaction.”

He cautioned there should be no action which is not based on science or medical evidence.

Ban said the fight against Ebola is a “top priority” of the United Nations and admitted he was conscious of the fact the disease has had a “heavy impact on all spectrum of our lives.”

The secretary-general’s warning resonated in North Africa last week when Morocco postponed hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations because of its own fears over the possible spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco’s Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine was quoted as saying: “This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that this virus would put on the health of our fellow Africans.”

The New York Times said “fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray.”

As a result, the Confederation of African Football last week removed Morocco as host of the biennial soccer championship, with Equatorial Guinea stepping in to take over as host of the 16-team games early next year.

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Geographically, Morocco is a North African country.

Last July, Seychelles forfeited a match after it refused to permit a team from Sierra Leone into the country because of concerns over Ebola.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Philippine peacekeepers who returned home from Liberia recently were to be temporarily settled either on an island off Luzon or put on board a ship.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that once peacekeepers have completed their missions, these soldiers come under the authority of their respective governments.

Ban told IPS he was thankful for the countries that have pledged “massive resources” to fight Ebola.

These include the United States, UK, China, Japan, France and several other European countries.

He singled out the United States for providing over 4,000 soldiers and Cuba for providing hundreds of medical personnel in the fight against Ebola.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve over six billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease and also protect U.S. nationals.

“I hope the lame duck Congress will approve it,” Ban said.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the overall financial requirements are estimated at about 988 million dollars, of which 60 percent has been funded.

Additionally, there is also a Trust Fund, with 58.7 million dollars as pledges.

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told the 193-member General Assembly last week that “Ebola is a fearsome enemy and we will not win the battle by chasing it.”

The death toll has exceeded “a grim milestone” of 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, “with the real number likely to be much higher,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported over 13,000 Ebola cases in eight countries: the three most affected nations in West Africa, plus the United States, Spain, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

As the crisis continues, about 3,300 children have become Ebola orphans while food prices have been rising in the three affected countries, schools have closed and traders have refused to bring their products to the market.

At the just-ended summit of G20 world leaders from both developed and developing nations, the secretary-general said, “The rate of new cases is showing signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But as rates decline in one area, they are rising in others.”

And transmission continues to outpace the response, he added at the conclusion of the summit Sunday in Brisbane, which was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He urged the G20 to step up “so that we can meet the 70/70 goal: isolating and treating 70 per cent of all Ebola cases and providing safe and dignified burials to 70 per cent of those who have died.”

He said the international community must also address the secondary impacts on healthcare, education and soaring food prices caused by a disruption in farming that could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region.

“It is important we do not further isolate these three countries by imposing travel restrictions. This will not impede the spread of the virus: it will simply hamper our efforts to mobilise support,” he argued.

According to the WHO, there is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:51:01 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137790 Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137787 School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War-ravaged South Sudan Struggles to Contain AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:01:03 +0000 Charlton Doki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137757 Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a flowered African print kitenge and a blue head scarf, Sabur Samson, 27, sits pensively at the HIV centre at Maridi Civil Hospital in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. 

Today she paid 20 South Sudanese pounds (about six dollars) for a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) ride to the centre and will have to skimp on food in the next days.

South Sudan at a quick glance

After four decades of on-off war, South Sudan gained independence from north Sudan in July 2011. But stability did not last long.

Violence rooted in political and ethnical power struggles erupted in December 2013, shattering the dreams of peace for the world’s newest country (pop 11.3m).

After independence, South Sudan improved services for its estimated 150,000 people living with HIV. The new conflict reversed these gains, disrupting not only health services but water and sanitation, roads and bridges, food security and community networks.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people are newly displaced. Some fled to neighbouring countries, while 1.4 million huddle in 130 camps in South Sudan. Of these, 70 are so remote they are inaccessible to relief agencies, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

South Sudan has limited human resources, organisational and technical capacity to respond to HIV, says the study.

Key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Sudan include early age at first sex, low level of knowledge about HIV and of condom use, rape and gender-based sexual violence, high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.

The highest HIV prevalence is found in the three southern Greater Equatoria states bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Equatoria, where Samson and Mongo live, HIV prevalence is seven percent, more than double the national rate.

She will be hungry and few will help her in the village, although she is blind and a single mother of two children.

“Many people fear to come close because they fear they will contract HIV,” she told IPS.

Seated next to her, Khamis Mongo, 32, has lived with HIV for five years now and has suffered similar rejection. “Some people don’t want to eat from the same plate with me,” he says.

Mongo and Samson are among nearly 1,000 HIV positive people receiving care at the centre, of whom 250 are in antiretroviral therapy (ART). They are lucky: in South Sudan, just one out of 10 people needing ART gets it.

The clinic sees patients coming from as far as 100 kilometres.

“So many patients are dying because they can’t afford transport to collect their medicine here,” clinical officer Suzie Luka told IPS.

A one-way, 80 km bodaboda trip from Ibba to Maridi costs 150 South Sudanese pounds (47 dollars).

The challenges in Maridi are a microcosm of those that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, faces in containing the HIV epidemic.

Newly independent from north Sudan in 2011, and emerging from Africa’s longest civil war over 21 years with one of the world’s lowest human development statistics, South Sudan plunged again into fighting in December 2013.

The national HIV prevalence rate is under three percent and rising steadily, according to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

This translates into 150,000 people living with HIV in a country whose social fabric and physical infrastructure was destroyed by successive wars.

 “Moving corpses”

Evelyn Letio, from the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV, describes poor access, quality and continuity of health services, underpinned by denial of the disease and high stigma and discrimination, especially against women.

“Community leaders will hurriedly accept a divorce if it’s the woman who is positive and force her to leave the man’s house,” says Letio.”If it’s the man who is positive, they won’t allow the woman to leave the house so she can take care of him.”

Despite denial by government officials, discrimination is rampant within the civil service, she adds:  “People who have disclosed to be HIV positive are laid off and called ’moving corpses’.”

Inadequate financial, infrastructural and human resources limit efforts to expand HIV services.  The national HIV plan has an 80 percent funding shortfall.

Mongo and Sanson told IPS that the Maridi clinic often runs out of drugs and they have to return days later. Other times, staff has not been paid for months and stays away.

“Treatment has been tricky,” acknowledges Habib Daffalla Awongo, director general for programme coordination at South Sudan AIDS Commission.

According to UNAIDS, just 22 centres provided ART before the new outbreak of violence.

Last December, the ART centres in Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, capitals of the states worst hit by fighting, had to close. The whereabouts of 1,140 patients are unknown. Most likely they have interrupted ART, endangering their lives.

War and AIDS

Forty thousand people living with HIV have been directly affected by the recent violence, according to the United Nations. The new fighting reversed the gains made in HIV services since independence. 

Fast Facts About AIDS in South Sudan

150,000 people live with HIV
20,000 children under 15 live with HIV
12.500 AIDS-related deaths in 2013
15,400 new infections in 2013
72,000 people need ART
1 in 10 people needing ART is on ART
1 in 10 HIV positive pregnant women is on PMTCT
27 percent of people over 15 years are literate
1.9m internally displaced people in 2014

“We have lost many HIV positive people during the conflict, some died in the fighting and others migrated to peaceful areas,” said Awongo.

By U.N. counts,  the new conflict has displaced 1.9 million people.

In Juba, the capital, camps with long rows of white tents have sprung up to shelter some 31,000 displaced people.

Among them is Taban Khamis*, who escaped fighting in the key oil city of Bentiu, 1,000 kms north of Juba. He has interrupted ART and fears his health will soon worsen but he will not go to the camp’s HV clinic for fear of stigma.

“The camp is crowded and there is no privacy,” he told IPS. “Everyone will know that I have HIV.”

Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections “dramatically increases in camps”, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Awongo is aware of this problem. “We encourage people to come out of the camps to facility points where they can access services but this is not making a difference,” he says.

*Name changed to protect his privacy

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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U.S. Proposes Major Debt Relief for Ebola-Hit Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:16:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137752 An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The United States proposed Tuesday that the international community write off 100 million dollars in debt owed by West African countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak. The money would be re-invested in health and other public programming.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be detailing the proposal later this week to a summit of finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries. If the idea gains traction among G20 states, that support should be enough to approve the measure through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the United States is the largest voting member."The plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.” -- Jubilee USA’s executive director Eric LeCompte

“The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola,” Lew said in a statement to IPS.

“Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.”

These three countries together owe the IMF some 370 million dollars, according to the U.S. Treasury, with 55 million dollars due in the coming two years. Yet there are already widespread fears over the devastating financial ramifications of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in addition to the epidemic’s horrendous social impact.

Last month, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. The World Bank, meanwhile, estimates that the virus, which has already killed more than 5,000 people and infected more than 14,000, could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

Of course, much of the multilateral machinery is often too cumbersome to respond to a fast-moving viral outbreak. Yet there is reason to believe that the U.S. plan could have both immediate and long-term impacts.

That’s because the plan would see the IMF tap a unique fund set up in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which facilitated the cancellation of nearly 270 million dollars of Haitian debt to the IMF. Called the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) Trust, it is aimed specifically at responding to major natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.

Originally, the PCDR Trust was capitalised with more than 420 million dollars. Today, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson told IPS, the trust has some 150 million dollars in it – money that would be available almost immediately.

“Our proposal is for the IMF to provide debt relief for these Ebola-affected nations from this trust,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. would like to see around 100 million dollars put toward this effort, however the precise amount will need to be determined in consultations with the IMF and its membership.”

The IMF, meanwhile, says it is preparing to consider the proposal. In September the Washington-based agency made available 130 million dollars in immediate support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We are very glad that some donors have expressed an interest in increasing support for the Ebola-affected countries. We are reaching out to all donors to see how we might be able to take this forward … using all the tools available to us,” an IMF spokesperson told IPS.

“[Debt relief] decisions are made according to the merits of the particular case and this would be approached in the same way. We would expect the Board to be briefed soon on this topic.”

Ebola’s “natural disaster”

For development and anti-poverty advocates, debt obligations on the part of poor countries constitute a key obstacle to a government’s ability to respond to critical social needs, both in the short and long term.

In the West African epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak, many analysts have held chronic low national health spending directly responsible for allowing the epidemic to spiral out of control. And when looking at feeble public sector spending, it is impossible not to take into account often crushing debt burdens.

For instance, Guinea spent a little more than 100 million dollars on public health in 2012 but paid nearly 150 million dollars that same year on internationally held debt, according to World Bank figures provided by Jubilee USA, an anti-debt advocacy network that has spearheaded the push for the United States to make the current proposal.

“As bad as Ebola has been, some of these countries have far greater challenges with deaths from malaria than from Ebola,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, told IPS.

“The amount is incredibly important because it cancels a significant portion of the debt completely. And the plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.”

LeCompte was also involved in the creation of the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. His office has advocated for the fund’s monies to be used since then – for instance, to react to flooding in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But he says these and other proposals have been rejected by the IMF’s membership, on the rationale that these countries were developed enough to be able to mobilise financing in other ways. (The IMF says PCDR funds are for response to “the most catastrophic of natural disasters” in “low-income countries”, when a third of a country’s population has been affected and a quarter of its production capacity destroyed.)

Not only are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the poorest countries in the world, but the Ebola outbreak there has a potentially direct impact on the rest of the globe.

“This is a very clear opportunity to point to the 150 million dollars left in that fund and to note that Ebola is every bit the same as the Haitian earthquake in terms of being a regional calamity,” LeCompte says.

“The difference is that this is also a long-term investment in the very problems that allow Ebola to spread. So we’d be not only addressing the current issue, but also the next disease outbreak in that region.”

It is unclear whether there is a mechanism in place to top up the PCDR Trust in the future. The IMF states that “Replenishment of the Trust will rely on donor contributions, as necessary.”

But for his part, LeCompte says the fund has the potential to fill a significant gap: offering a pot of money, immediately available, that could be quickly mobilised to deal with true crises afflicting the world’s poorest countries, from hurricanes to major financial defaults.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137746 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137720 Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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Filipinos Take to the Streets One Year After Typhoon Haiyanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:53:07 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137683 One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

People covered their bodies with mud to protest against government ineptitude and abandonment; others lighted paper lanterns and candles and released white doves and balloons to remember the dead, offer thanks and pray for more strength to move on; while many trooped to a vast grave site with white crosses to lay flowers for those who died, and to cry one more time.

These were the scenes this past Saturday, Nov. 8, in Tacloban City in central Philippines, known as ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan.

One year after the storm flattened the city with 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges that caused unimaginable damage to the city centre and its outlying areas and killed more than 6,500 people, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of Haiyan, known among Filipinos as Yolanda, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.

Thousands of stories, mostly about loss, hopelessness, loneliness, hunger, disease, and deeper poverty flooded media portals in the Philippines. There were also abundant stories of heroism and demonstrations of extraordinary strength.

Understanding the scope of the disaster

"We have felt a year's worth of the government's vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year's worth of news and studies that confirm this situation." -- Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors
There may be some signs that suggest a semblance of revival in Tacloban City, located about 580 km southeast of Manila, but it has yet to fully come back to life – that process could take six to eight years, possibly more, according to members of the international donor community.

Still, the anniversary was marked by praise for the Philippines’ “fast first-step recovery” from a disaster of this magnitude, compared with the experience of other disaster-hit places such as Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean.

In its assessment of the relief and reconstruction effort, released prior to the anniversary, the Philippines-based multilateral Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that while “reconstruction efforts continue to be a struggle”, a lot has been done.

“The ADB has been in the Philippines for 50 years, and we can say that other countries would not have responded this strongly to such a huge crisis,” ADB Vice President for East Asia and Southeast Asia Stephen Groff told a press conference last week.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder echoed his words, adding, “The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters.”

Experts say that Filipinos’ ‘bayanihan’ – a sense of neighbourhood and communal unity – helped strengthen the daunting rehabilitation process.

“Yolanda was the largest and most powerful typhoon ever to hit land and it impacted a huge area, including some of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It is important that we look at the scale and scope of this disaster one year after Yolanda,” Groff stressed.

He said the typhoon affected 16 million people, or 3.4 million families, and damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, 248 transmission towers and over 1,200 public structures such as provincial, municipal and village halls and public markets.

Also damaged were 305 km of farm-to-market roads, 20,000 classrooms and over 400 health facilities such as hospitals and rural health stations.

In total, the storm affected more than 14.5 million people in 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces across nine regions. To date, more than four million people still remain homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has faced criticism from affected residents, who used Saturday’s memorial to blast the government for its ineptitude in the recovery process.

Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors, told journalists, “We have felt a year’s worth of the government’s vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year’s worth of news and studies that confirm this situation.”

Protesters burned a nine-foot effigy of the president on the day of the anniversary.

Early morning on Nov. 8 more than 5,000 people holding balloons, lanterns, and candles walked around Tacloban City in an act of mourning and remembrance.

The Roman Catholic Church declared the anniversary date as a national day of prayer as church bells pealed and sirens wailed at the start of a mass at the grave-site where nearly 3,000 people are buried.

Hundreds of fishermen staged protests to demand that the government provide new homes, jobs, and livelihoods, accusing government officials of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

Filipino netizens recalled that they cried nonstop while helplessly watching on their television and computer screens how Tacloban City was battered by the storm.

They posted and shared photos of Filipinos who were hailed as heroes because they volunteered to meet and drive survivors to their relatives in Manila and other places as they alighted from military rescue planes.

“Before” and “after” pictures of the area also made the rounds on the Web.

‘Billions’ in international assistance

President Aquino in a visit to nearby affected Samar island before the storm anniversary said, “I would hope we can move even faster and I will push everybody to move even faster, but the sad reality is the scope of work we need to do can really not be done overnight. I want to do it correctly so that benefits are permanent.”

The Philippine government estimates the need for a 170-billion-peso (3.8-billion-dollar) master-plan to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-metre-high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent further damage in case of another disaster.

Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban City, told journalists two million people are still living in tents and only 1,422 households have been relocated to permanent shelters. As many as 205,500 survivors are still in need of permanent houses.

The recovery process was successful in erecting new electricity posts a few months after the storm, while black swaths of mud have now been replaced by greenery, with crops quickly replanted, and rice fields thriving once more.

Government, private, and international aid workers also restored sanitation and hygiene programmes in the aftermath of the storm.

The ADB announced it was trying to determine whether or not to provide a further 150 million dollars worth of official assistance to Yolanda survivors on top of the 900 million dollars already pledged in grants and concessions at the start of reconstruction efforts.

The United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to provide a 10-million-dollar technical assistance plan to develop 18,400 projects across the country. These will cover other hard-hit areas outside of Tacloban City, such as Guian in Eastern Samar, which will also receive 10 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for rehabilitation programmes.

The Canadian government also offered 3.75 million Canadian dollars to restore livelihoods and access to water to the affected provinces of Leyte and Iloilo.

The Philippine government assured that the billions donated, offered and pledged by the international community would be safely accounted for, monitored, guarded and reported on with transparency.

Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was designated in charge of the rehabilitation programme, said that already he has confirmed reports that some bunkhouses in Tacloban and Eastern Samar were built with substandard materials and that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

“That’s when I realised we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

He asked Filipinos to share information that they know about irregularities on the management and administration of the billions of pesos from the national coffers and donor organisations for rebuilding communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/trapped-populations-hostages-of-climate-change-2/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ido Liven http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137679 When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

By Ido Liven
LONDON, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

Climate change is projected by many scientists to bring with it a range of calamities – from widespread floods, to prolonged heatwaves and slowly but relentlessly rising seas – taking the heaviest toll on those already most vulnerable.

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist.

While many could be uprooted in search of a safer place to live, either temporarily or permanently, some may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape.

“People around the world are more or less mobile, depending on a range of factors,” argues Prof Richard Black from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, “but they can become trapped in circumstances where they want or need [to move] but cannot.”When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist … they may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape

According to Black, “it is most likely to be because they cannot afford it, or because there is no [social] network for them to follow or job for them to do … or because there is some kind of policy barrier to movement such as a requirement for a visa that is unobtainable, in some countries even the requirement for an exit visa that is unobtainable.”

For the most vulnerable, climate change could mean double jeopardy – first, from worsening environmental conditions threatening their livelihood, and second, from the diminished financial, social and even physical assets required for moving away provoked by this situation.

A project on migration and global environmental change led by Black was one of the first to draw attention to the notion of “trapped populations”.

In its report, published in 2011 by the Foresight think tank at the U.K. Government Office for Science, the authors warned that “in the decades ahead, millions of people will be unable to move away from locations in which they are extremely vulnerable to environmental change.”

An example the Foresight report mentions is that of inhabitants of small island states living in flood-prone areas or near exposed coasts. People in these areas might not have the means to address these hazards and also lack the resources to migrate out of the islands.

The report warned that such situations could escalate to risky displacement and humanitarian emergencies.

In fact, past cases offer some evidence of groups of people who have become immobile as a result of either extreme weather events or even slow onset crises.

One such example, says Black, is the drought in the 1980s in Africa’s Sahel region, when there was a decrease in the numbers of adult men who chose to migrate – the same people who would otherwise leave the area.

“Under drought conditions they were less able to do so because that involves drawing on your assets – in the Sahel often assets would be livestock – and the drought kills livestock, which means you can’t convert livestock into cash, and then you can’t pay the smuggler or afford the cost of the journey that would take you out of that area.”

Nevertheless, Black argues that in many cases it would be especially difficult to distinguish people who remain because they can and wish to, from those who are really unable to leave. In addition, environmental change could also drive people to migrate towards areas where they are even more at risk than those they have left.

In the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam, researchers foresee climate change contributing to floods, loss of land and increased soil salinity. Facing these hazards, local residents in an already impoverished region could find themselves unable to cope, and also unable to move away.

“It would generally be income and assets that will determine whether people can stay where they are or need to relocate,” says Dr Christopher Smith from the University of Sussex, who is currently conducting a European Community-funded project assessing the risk of trapped populations in the Mekong delta.

“Within the short term, it would mostly be temporary movement, but in the future … there could be more permanent migration.”

According to Smith, “the Mekong, being such a long river that flows through so many different countries, will make [this case] quite unique in terms of changes to the water budget in the delta and, of course, factors like cultures and populations in the delta will play a part.”

Conclusions from the study are likely to be relevant to other cases around the world, and specifically to other low lying mega-deltas with similar characteristics, Smith adds.

In Guatemala, researchers found that relatively isolated mountain communities could also be facing the risk of becoming stranded by climate change.

According to a study published earlier this year, irregular rainfall could be posing a serious threat for the food security and sources of income of communities in the municipality of Cabricán who rely on subsistence rain-fed agriculture.

Yet, the risks associated with climate change are not confined to developing countries. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the south-east of the United States in 2005, offered a vivid example when the New Orleans’ Superdome housed more than 20,000 people over several days.

“That was to do with the fact that an evacuation plan had been designed with the idea that everybody would leave by car, but essentially there were sections of the population that didn’t have a car and were not going to leave by car, and also some people who didn’t believe the messages around evacuation,” says Black.

“And those people who were trapped in the eye of the storm were then more likely to be displaced later – so they were more likely to end up in one of the trailer parks, the temporary accommodation put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Scientists are wary of linking Hurricane Katrina, or any single extreme weather event, to climate change. Yet, studies show that a warmer world might not necessarily mean more hurricanes, but such storms could be fiercer than those that these areas are used to.

Beyond science, says Black, international organisations are aware of the issue. “I’ve had quite extensive discussions with UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the International Organization for Migration, the European Commission and a number of other bodies on these matters. There is a degree of interest in this idea that people can be trapped.”

A paper on Populations ‘trapped’ at times of crisis written by Black with Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex and published in February, notes that while it might still be early to suggest specific policy measures to address this predicament, there are several steps decision makers can take, and not only on the national level.

“As long as we have limited information on trapped populations,” say the authors, “the policy goal should be to avoid situations in which people are unable to move when they want to, not to promote policy that encourages them to move when they may not want to, and up-to-date information allowing them to make an informed choice.”

Intergovernmental fora – and among them the loss and damage stream in international climate negotiations – are yet to address specifically the challenge of trapped populations, but Europe might already be showing the way.

A European Commission working paper on climate change, environmental degradation and migration that accompanies the European Union’s strategy on adaptation to climate change adopted in April 2013 mentions the risk of trapped populations, albeit implicitly only outside the region, and recommends steps to address the issue.

Reviewing existing research on the links between climate change, environmental degradation and migration, the authors note that relocation, while questionably effective, “may nevertheless become a necessity in certain scenarios” such as the case of trapped communities.

“The EU should therefore consider supporting countries severely exposed to environmental stressors to assess the path of degradation and design specific preventive internal, or where necessary, international relocation measures when adaptation strategies can no longer be implemented,” states the working paper.

Ultimately, the situation where individuals, families, and indeed entire communities, find themselves unable to move out of harm’s way is not unique to the effects of climate change – it can be other natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions or human-induced crises like armed conflict.

The international community’s response to people moving in the face of such crises is most often based on giving them a status, such as “internally displaced persons”, “asylum seekers” or “refugees”.

But this would not be the appropriate response when people remain, argues Black.

For them, “the issue is not a lack of legal status – it’s a lack of options … Public policy needs to be geared around providing people with options, in my view, both ahead of disasters and in the immediate aftermath of disasters.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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