Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwait Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nations Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Israel Using Live Ammunition for Palestinian Crowd Control Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 Mel Frykberg Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A Palestinian youth lost his fight for life this week after lying critically injured in Ramallah Hospital for days after Israeli soldiers used live ammunition as a method of crowd control against stone-throwing Palestinians near a Palestinian refugee camp.

“Ali Safi had critical injuries to his kidneys, spinal cord, lungs and spleen,” Dr Sami Naghli, who runs Jelazon refugee camp’s medical relief services, told IPS.

Seventeen-year-old Safi was shot last week by an Israeli sniper armed with a Ruger rifle during clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers.

The bullet which hit him was a 0.22 inch calibre bullet, which is considered less lethal than ordinary bullets of 5.56 mm calibre.“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately” – orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat

There has been a recent increase in the use of this kind of bullet against Palestinian demonstrators by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) despite disagreement within the Israeli military about the use of this controversial weapon for riot control when the lives of Israeli soldiers are not endangered.

The head of Israel’s security department in the Operations Directorate stated in 2001 that the Ruger could not be considered a non-lethal weapon and could only be used in circumstances which justified the use of live fire.

Due to the large number of Palestinians injured and killed by 0.22 bullets, the use of this ammunition was suspended during the second Intifada, or uprising, from 2001 to 2008.

However, they are once again being used by the Israelis and the number of Palestinians seriously injured by them is growing, with at least two deaths in the last several months.

“Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch calibre bullets. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes,” reported Israeli rights group B’tselem in January.

“Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets,” said B’tselem.

The humanitarian organisation has also said it witnessed cases of Israeli soldiers provoking clashes in order to fire live ammunition at protesters.

The reintroduction of this controversial weapon prompted B’tselem to complain to Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG), who responded confirming that “the Ruger and similar means are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances.”

Dr Naghli told IPS that the Israeli soldiers are also using a kind of bullet which fragments on impact, causing severe trauma and damage to bones, organs and nerves, although he could not confirm if this was a 0.22 or another type.

“During the last three months there have been over 40 wounded from these types of gunshots,” said Naghli.

Over the last few weeks, IPS has witnessed Israeli snipers firing repeatedly at Palestinians during several clashes in the West Bank when stones thrown landed at a distance away from the soldiers presenting no danger.

IPS also visited some of the wounded in Ramallah Hospital and spoke to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat who was treating them.

“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately,” Dr Barakat told IPS.

In a related development, the IDF has also temporarily suspended the use of attack dogs when arresting Palestinians, most accused of stone-throwing.

This follows a video, which went viral and caused an outcry, of 16-year-old Hamzeh Abu Hashem, 16, of Beit Ummar near Hebron in the southern West Bank, being savaged by two dogs as soldiers arrest him.

A subsequent IDF investigation found that while the use of dogs in confrontations “could be justified, in the case in question, the youth could have been arrested using other means.” Abu Hashem has been incarcerated since the incident.

Meanwhile, torture of Palestinians in detention by Israeli security services has been on the rise since the second half of 2014, according to the Public Committee Against Torture (PCAT) in Israel, an attorney representing Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz daily.

“In years past there were a few rare cases of torture. But something has changed,” the attorney told Haaretz.

In all of 2014, 23 Palestinians filed a number of complaints of torture by the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency).

Until 1999, thousands of Palestinian prisoners were tortured every year. PCAT estimates that most Palestinians questioned had experienced at least one kind of torture.

In September 1999, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, the court prohibited the systematic use of torture, but left a small opening for interrogators

This opening applied to cases known as “ticking time bombs” where the use of force is permitted to obtain crucial information.

However, critics have pointed out that what constitutes a “ticking time bomb” is open to interpretation as well as the fact that Palestinian prisoners who have been tortured have sometimes given false information just to stop the torture.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Security Council Focuses on Children as Victims of Armed Groups Thu, 26 Mar 2015 02:41:10 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

24 hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.

In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”

In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.

“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.

U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.

“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.

Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.

“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.

Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.

Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Gates Foundation Slammed for Plan to Privatise African Seed Markets Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:59:52 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been attacked by activists over alleged support of a plan to privatise African agricultural markets.

United Kingdom social justice organisation Global Justice Now levelled the claims at the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday, saying the two agencies were holding a “secret meeting” in London to promote a plan to help companies sell seeds in Africa, that will cut out small farmers.

“This morning in response food justice campaigners have held a demonstration outside the offices of the BMGF in London, with placards calling on the foundation to ‘free the seeds’ and handing out packets of open-pollinated seeds as a symbol of the alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF,” Global Justice Now said in a release.

“A papier mâché piñata representing the commercial control of seed systems was smashed by the protesters, with thousands of seeds inside being spilled over the steps of the entrance to the BMGF.”

Global Justice Now said the London meeting was in response to a study by Monitor-Deloitte, commissioned by USAID and the Gates Foundation, which examined how corporate seed producers could better penetrate African markets.

“For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease,” Global Justice Now food sovereignty campaigner Heidi Chow wrote in a blog post on their website.

“However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds.”

The group claims such “corporate-produced hybrid seeds” bring higher harvests in initial years, but later show unpredictable growth patterns.

“This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them,” the blog post continued.

“Often the seeds are sold in packages with chemical fertiliser and pesticides which can lead to spiralling debt as well as damaging the environment and causing health problems.”

Chow called the plan “another form of colonialism” for forcing African farmers to depend on corporate interests for their continued survival.

“We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system.”

Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, Chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, also expressed concern over the power that corporate interests would hold over farmers.

Activists worldwide are using the Twitter hashtag #FreeTheSeeds to protest the meeting and the plan.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Fronts Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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‘Water Man of India’ Wins Stockholm Water Prize Fri, 20 Mar 2015 16:04:28 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

A conservationist known as ‘The Water Man of India’ has been named Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for 2015.

Rajendra Singh, from the state of Rajasthan, has been a leading voice for water security, management and conservation in India for decades.

Singh is currently Chairman of environmental advocacy group Tarun Bharat Sangh, which helps local communities in India take back control of their natural resources, as well as pushing for sustainable development.

“Through the Indian wisdom of rainwater harvesting, we have made helpless, abandoned, destitute and impoverished villages prosperous and healthy again,” Singh said.

Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, called Singh “a beacon of hope,” warning that “we will face a severe water crisis within decades if we do not learn how to better take care of our water.”

“He has literally brought villages back to life. We need to take Mr Singh’s lessons and actions to heart if we are to achieve sustainable water use in our lifetime,” Holmgren said.

Singh studied medicine and surgery, but after relocating to Rajasthan in the 1980s with a plan to establish medical clinics, was told by villagers that their greatest need was water.

He began working to build traditional dams called johads; in awarding the prize, the Stockholm Water Prize Committee said Singh helped build almost 9,000 such water collection devices in 1,000 villages across the state, which restored water flow to several rivers and encouraged the return of forests and wildlife.

“When we started our work, we were only looking at the drinking water crisis and how to solve that. Today our aim is higher,” Singh said.

This is the century of exploitation, pollution and encroachment. To stop all this, to convert the war on water into peace, that is my life’s goal.”

Singh will receive US$150,000 as part of the prize. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Patron of the prize, will present Singh with the honour at a Royal Award Ceremony during World Water Week in Stockholm on August 26.

Singh joins other winners of the award, awarded annually since 1991, including dignitaries from Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the USA, Mexico, Germany, South Africa and Israel.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Sustainable Development Goals Could Be a Game-Changer for Water Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:55:44 +0000 Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Mauritius experienced a water shortage for months in 2011 when the anticipated summer rains failed to arrive. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Betsy Otto and Kitty van der Heijden
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Suppose money was being deposited and withdrawn from your bank account, but you didn’t know how much. And suppose you knew you had bills coming due, but you didn’t know when or what amount would be required to cover them.

Worse, what if you discovered that money was being siphoned from your retirement account to cover the shortfall in your checking account? How confident would you feel about your financial stability?While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises.

This situation plays out every day when it comes to freshwater. We don’t know how much water we are withdrawing and consuming. In many places, we don’t even know how much groundwater and surface water we have.

But we do know this unequivocally: People, ecosystems, food, energy and cities can’t exist without water. Already, water resources are being strained to the breaking point – in Sao Paulo, northern China, the western United States, northwestern India and many other places. And the world’s water needs are rising inexorably.

Yet this World Water Day, we also find ourselves at a watershed moment. There is a powerful opportunity that may help countries move toward better water management: the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walking the Talk through Targets, Measurement

The SDGs will replace the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, and set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. For the first time ever, the goals could offer new transparency and accountability in how the world uses its water resources. Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs has specific targets related to sustainable and efficient water use, water and sanitation, water quality and protection of critical natural infrastructure.

Beyond a dedicated goal on water, the issue is also mainstreamed across the 17 goals – in goal 3 on health, goal 11 on cities, goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production and goal 15 on terrestrial ecosystems.  These targets will focus political attention, resources and stakeholders on water management more than ever before.

This fall, the international community will finalise the SDGs and the metrics to measure and track water use at a country level. These targets could help hold countries accountable for better water management. Importantly, the SDGs would apply to both developed and developing countries, forcing all countries to “walk the talk.”

Where companies lead, others follow

Many companies already understand that the world is on an unsustainable path. They’re experiencing it in their bottom lines, and investors are asking tough questions. The 2015 World Economic Forum listed “water supply crises” as the top global risks affecting businesses.

Industry leaders are taking steps to reduce their risk exposure and making investments to lessen watershed-level stress, devoting resources to urban water efficiency, aquifer recharge and reforestation and other strategies. For example, Heineken committed this year to create source water protection plans for all of its production units located in water-stressed areas, while MillerCoors has a five-part water stewardship strategy in place.

The private sector and civil society will be useful allies in raising awareness in countries facing particularly high competition for water resources. Hopefully this, combined with the SDGs, will motivate governments to take positive action to reduce water stress – from more rational water pricing, to regulating groundwater withdrawal rates to incentivizing efficient irrigation and reducing water intensity in energy extraction and production.

It starts with good data

This first-of-its-kind SDG system will depend on strong metrics and data. A first step will be establishing a baseline to track sustainable water use against the target.

This challenge will require the best efforts of experts on global water data systems. These discussions are already underway across the world’s professional water communities.

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool is a good place to start. The open-source platform provides the most up-to-date, globally consistent water supply and demand data publicly available today. Many companies, investors, governments and others are already using the Aqueduct tool Forthcoming water stress projection maps will also provide scenarios for future demand and supply for 2020, 2030 and 2040, helping the private sector and government create forward-looking water management policies.

An unprecedented opportunity

We can move from a picture of frightening scarcity, uncertainty and competition to one of abundance. Strategies to reduce water stress and use water more efficiently have been successfully applied by countries on virtually every continent. Awareness drives action, and transparency drives accountability.

The international consensus embedded in the new SDGs could be a game-changer. While challenging to implement, the new SDGs could bring unprecedented action to mitigate the world’s water demand and supply crises. And done well, they will foster growth, reduce poverty and build resilient ecosystems – delivering a more sustainable future.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UNDP Unveils Blueprint for Swift, Unified Crisis Response Thu, 19 Mar 2015 20:54:12 +0000 Ramesh Jaura Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has announced a new 10-year global plan to support country efforts to reduce the risk of disasters that kill people and destroy livelihoods. The plan was unveiled at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which ended on Mar. 18.

“Called ‘5-10-50’, the programme will support countries and communities to deliver better risk-informed development, and targets 50 countries over 10 years, with a focus on five critical areas: risk awareness and early warning; risk-governance and mainstreaming; preparedness; resilient recovery; and local/urban risk reduction,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said at a special event on Mar. 17 in Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster."It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population." -- Izumi Nakamitsu

The UNDP also launched a new report at Sendai, titled ‘Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance: UNDP Support during the HFA Implementation Period 2005 – 2015’.

The report is a review of UNDP support in 125 disaster-prone countries since 2005, and draws on detailed findings from a selection of 17 countries. The findings from the report are to be used in the development of the new programme.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview in which the UNDP Assistant Administrator Izumi Nakamitsu, who heads the agency’s Crisis Response Unit, explains what this Unit in particular and the agency in general are doing to reduce disaster risk (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York):

IPS: What was the idea behind setting up the Crisis Response Unit, and what does it do?

Izumi Nakamitsu (IN): UNDP is obviously a development cooperation organisation. But if you look at the world, there are so many crises. We have to make sure we become, or are, a development cooperation organisation that can also respond to crises properly and fast. If you can respond quickly to crises, you can from the start put perspectives of early recovery and also resilience. We can actually become much more strategic in the way the international community can actually respond to crises.

You hear this terminology of ‘fit for purpose.’ U.N. organisations need to change with the changing environment and context. That was the reasoning behind this rather dramatic restructuring of UNDP (in October 2014). As one of the outcomes, it’s not the only one, is a new entity called the crisis response unit.

We make sure UNDP actually takes a whole of UNDP approach. The crisis response perspectives and early recovery perspectives are integrated into everything that we do in development work. Our role is to make sure that, by becoming a sort of crisis coordinator, different parts of UNDP will be responding collectively so that we actually take the whole of UNDP approach.

I should also emphasise it’s not just a natural disaster context. In fact, if you look at the number of victims of humanitarian crises, 70-80 percent are in a conflict setting. It’s much more complicated to respond to that sort of crisis.

IPS: So disaster risk reduction is one complement of your activities?

IN: Risk reduction perspective has to be integrated into everything we do. The whole development actions will have to be risk-informed. All parts of UNDP are integrating perspectives.

It’s not just my little unit that coordinates and manages a crisis response, but there’s a large team that is specifically looking at how to mainstream DRR (disaster risk reduction) perspectives into everything UNDP does. It’s not just the crisis context. It has to be part of normal development work.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population. We think it makes sense to integrate and mainstream these DRR perspectives throughout the development process.

IPS: How does the cooperation function in this case?

IN: Obviously we have to work together. A lot of the risk reduction part is to create a national sort of legal framework on the ground in different countries. We still have very good disaster management law, for example. We have been working quite a lot; in 70-80 percent of our programme countries, UNDP has been part of preparing that legislative framework to properly invest in DRR.

But that’s only the beginning of the work. We have to then create the actual capacities at the country level, so that thIs legislation will actually have an impact in terms of DRR.

IPS: And that’s more difficult?

IN: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. It takes time. It’s about capacity building. For that to happen, we need to have good partners on the ground that are engaged with those stakeholders.

I was meeting with the secretary general of the federation of Red Cross societies, they have huge strength, because they have national chapters, national committees, who will be implementing those things in terms of capacity building. We have been partnering with them also in terms of preparing legislation as well.

The next step is to create capacities on the ground. We’re doing a lot of that. We think it makes sense to invest in those types of activities. We can’t prevent disasters. That is not possible. But if we can minimise the risk, we can manage the impact, then probably much smaller humanitarian interventions would be required. The whole international support will probably become much more sustainable.

IPS: Disaster prone countries lack funds, they also lack technologies. These will have to come from rich and industrialised countries. Isn’t that a problem?

IN: Of course . . . Japan just pledged 4 billion USD during the conference (as a gesture of goodwill). But it’s not just about the amount of money . . .There will have to be an understanding on the part of all governments that they have to invest in building DRR frameworks. They have to invest in building resilience and ensuring that resilience. It’s not just the amount of money but how you spend it.

IPS: It’s the old debate, the effectiveness.

IN: 2015 is a critical year: especially on the eve of (the finance for development meeting in) Addis Ababa, many countries are looking at what it is that they will have to agree. Sendai is the first one.

IPS: What would you suggest developing countries should expect from Addis?

IN: Let’s hope these intergovernmental processes will produce a strong enough policy framework that will actually fully recognise that these are in fact DRR, development concerns, and will be treated as such. Also that the countries will understand, you need to actually make investments in resilience and risk reduction.

But also, for UNDP, it’s very important that policy frameworks will not just be policy frameworks working in abstract. They have to be something that can be implemented in a concrete way on the ground in a country.

We have invested 2 billion USD in the last 10 years in this area, DRR. In terms of implementation capacity, we are the one who will have to actually take those policy frameworks, look at them, and reflect them into our country programmes. Our work will probably be much more intense when these frameworks are ready.

We will have to take them and operationalise them. Those are the hopes. These are all intergovernmental processes. We’re here to support the governments and inform, in our view, what works and what doesn’t work that well. And feeding those perspectives into government delegations in the form of advice.

IPS: We are entering the minefield, where it’s a question of: what does international cooperation achieve?

IN: I think national governments also have a huge responsibility, but that’s why we work with them. We are the largest partner of those governments, especially in DRR areas. I talked about disaster management laws in different countries.

That’s a prime example of governments taking their responsibilities and then creating the capacities to make sure these legislative frameworks will actually have an impact and work with them also. (National) Governments’ responsibilities and our support, they are probably both sides of the same coin.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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U.N. Envoy Pushes for Safer Schools Worldwide Thu, 19 Mar 2015 19:30:19 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

Speaking from the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, defined 2015 as the year to end violations of the rights of the children worldwide.

“It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarization of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace”, Brown said.

The British ex-Prime Minister highlighted the case of South Sudan, saying “The tragedy in South Sudan with schools being militarized and over 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers must be stopped.”

Having recently visited Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, Brown said that the international community should focus on several steps to change the status quo.

Firstly, Brown called for the international community to reach an agreement on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies, to be set before the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July.

Brown also announced his call for a conference in Washington on April 16, on educating the half-million Syrian child refugees in Lebanon. Following an agreement reached with the Lebanese minister of education, the aim is to raise $163m for Lebanese schools to operate on a double-shift system to sustain Syrian children’s schooling.

Thirdly, Brown highlighted the importance of schemes like the Safe Schools Initiative, which has just been launched in Pakistan after initial success in Nigeria. The Pakistani government, in partnership with UNICEF and the Global Business Coalition for Education, will launch safety-assessment technology in around 1000 pilot schools in the country. Soon, the initiative will be extended to countries like South Sudan, Lebanon and the DRC.

In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative has raised $30m, with a large contribution from the United States, said Brown. “Nearly 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures,” he added.

Brown invited all countries to sign the international Safe School Declaration (recognized now by 30 countries), which provides the same protection as Red Cross Hospitals.

In closing, Brown urged the international community to increase funding for education as a percentage of humanitarian aid, which is currently at 1 percent. “Insisting on a new fund for education in emergencies is necessary to prevent millions of children from falling through the cracks,” he said.

“We need to re-address aid funds for education and Sustainable Development Goals through partnership with the private sector, and the use of social impacts bonds.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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World’s Richest One Percent Undermine Fight Against Economic Inequalities Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:34:28 +0000 Thalif Deen Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Thalif Deen

The growing economic inequalities between rich and poor – and the lopsided concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the world’s one percent – are undermining international efforts to fight global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice, according to a civil society alliance.

Comprising ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus, the group of widely-known non-governmental organisations (NGO) and global charities warn about the widening gap and imbalance of power between the world’s richest and the rest of the population, which they say, is “warping the rules and policies that affect society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence.”"Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. " -- Ben Phillips of ActionAid

The group identifies a list of key concerns – including tax avoidance, wealth inequality and lack of access to healthcare – as being unduly influenced by the world’s wealthiest one percent.

In a statement released Thursday, on the eve of the World Social Forum (WSF) scheduled to take place in Tunis Mar. 24-28, the group argues the concentration of wealth and power is now a critical and binding factor that must be challenged “if we are to create lasting solutions to poverty and climate change.”

The statement – signed by the chief executives of the four organisations – says: “We cannot rely on technological fixes. We cannot rely on the market. And we cannot rely on the global elites. We need to help strengthen the power of the people to challenge the people with power.”

“Securing a just and sustainable world means challenging the power of the one percent,” the group says.

The signatories include Adriano Campolina of ActionAid, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Civicus, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace and Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam.

Asked about the impact of economic inequalities on the implementation of the U.N.’s highly touted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ben Phillips, campaigns and policy director at ActionAid International, told IPS economic inequalities have meant that in many countries progress on poverty reduction has been much slower than it would have been if growth had been more equal.

For example, he said, Zambia has moved from being a poor country (officially) to being (officially) middle income. Yet during that time the absolute number of poor people has increased.

India’s persistently high child malnutrition rate and South Africa’s persistently high mortality rate are functions of an insufficient focus on inequality, he added.

Papua New Guinea has the highest growth in the world this year and won’t meet any MDG, because the proceeds of growth are so unequally shared, he pointed out.

Speaking on behalf of the civil society alliance, Phillips said inequality has also been the great blind spot of the MDGs – even when countries have met the MDGs they have often done so in a way that has left behind the poorest people – so goals like reducing maternal and infant mortality have been met in several countries in ways that have left those at the bottom of the pile with little or no improvement.

The four signatories say: “We will work together with others to tackle the root causes of inequality. We will press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. We will together champion international cooperation to avoid a race to the bottom.”

The statement also says that global efforts to end poverty and marginalisation, advance women’s rights, defend the environment, protect human rights, and promote fair and dignified employment are all being undermined as a consequence of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

“Decisions are being shaped in the narrow interests of the richest, at the expense of the people as a whole,” it says.

“The economic, ecological and human rights crises we face are intertwined and reinforcing. The influence of the one percent has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,” the group warns.

“Faced with this challenge, we need to go beyond tinkering, and address the structural causes of inequality: we cannot rely on technological fixes – there is no app for this; we cannot rely on the market – unchecked it will worsen inequality and climate change; and we cannot rely on the global elites – left alone they will continue to reinforce the structures and approaches that have led to where we are”.

People’s mobilisation and active citizenship are crucial to change the power inequalities that are leading to worsening rights violations and inequality, the group says.

However, in all regions of the world, the more people mobilise to defend their rights, the more the civic and political space is being curtailed by repressive action defending the privileged.

“We therefore pledge to work together locally, nationally and internationally, alongside others, to uphold and defend universal human rights and protect civil society space. A more equal society that values everyone depends on citizens holding the powerful to account.”

Phillips told IPS even the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September, will not be achievable if economic inequalities continue.

As leading economist Andy Sumner of King’s College, London has demonstrated, “we find in our number-crunching that poverty can only be ended if inequality falls.” Additionally, healthy, liveable societies depend on government action to limit inequality.

It is also a question of voice, and power. In the words of Harry Belafonte, a Hollywood celebrity and political activist: “The concentration of money in the hands of a small group is the most dangerous thing that happened to civilization.”

Or as Jeff Sachs, a widely respected development expert and professor at Columbia University, has noted: “Corporations write the rules, pay the politicians, sometimes illegally and sometimes, via what is called legal, which is financing their campaigns or massive lobbying. This has got completely out of control and is leading to the breakdown of modern democracy.”

Phillips said tackling inequality is core to progress on tackling poverty – both because extreme and growing economic inequality will undermine poverty reduction and because the warping of power towards the one percent is shifting the focus of governments away from their citizens and towards corporations.

“Inequality is about more than economics and growth – it is now at such high levels that we risk a return to the oligarchy of the gilded age. We need to shift power away from the one percent and towards the rest of society, to prevent all decisions being made in the narrow interests of a privileged few,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Key to Preventing Disasters Lies in Understanding Them Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:56:30 +0000 Ramesh Jaura Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded on Wednesday after a long drawn-out round of final negotiations, with representatives of 187 U.N. member states finally agreeing on what is being described as a far-reaching new framework for the next 15 years: 2015-2030.

But whether the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) heralds the dawn of a new era – fulfilling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expectation on the opening day of the conference on Mar. 14 that “sustainability starts in Sendai” – remains to be seen."I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society." -- Margareta Wahlström

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has emphasised that the new framework “opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health”.

But she warned on Wednesday that implementation of the new framework “will require strong commitment and political leadership and will be vital to the achievement of future agreements on sustainable development goals [in September] and climate later this year [in December in Paris]”.

The new framework outlines seven global targets and four priorities.

The global targets to be achieved over the next 15 years are: “a substantial reduction in global disaster mortality; a substantial reduction in numbers of affected people; a reduction in economic losses in relation to global GDP; substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities; an increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020; enhanced international cooperation; and increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.”

The four priorities for action are focussed on a better understanding of risk, strengthened disaster risk governance and more investment. A final priority calls for more effective disaster preparedness and embedding the ‘build back better’ principle into recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview with UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström on Mar. 16 during which she explained the nitty-gritty of DRR. (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York.):

IPS: Do you think this conference would come out with solutions to reduce disaster risk?

Margareta Wahlström (MW): The conference and the collective experience has got all the solutions. That’s not really our problem. Our problem is to make a convincing argument for applying the knowledge we already have. It has to do with individuals, with society, with business, et cetera. Not to make it an oversimplified agenda, because it’s quite complex.

If you really want to reduce risks sustainably, you have to look at many different sectors, and not individually, but they have to work together. I can see myself, I can hear, there has been a lot of progress over this 10 years.

One of the critical thresholds to cross is moving from the disaster to the risk understanding. I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society.

That’s what this conference is about. As much as it is about negotiating a document, now laying the ground for work in the coming decades, it is also about people learning very rapidly from each other, allowing themselves to be inspired.

IPS: An important issue is resilience. The poor and vulnerable have always shown resilience. But what we need to strengthen their resilience is money (finance for development) and technology. Do you see these two things happening as a result of this conference?

MW: Not only because of the conference. If anything, the conference will up the priorities, increase the understanding of the necessary integration of planning. In any case, historical experience shows the most critical foundation stone for resilience is social development and economic development. People need to be healthy, well educated, have choices, have jobs. With that follows, of course, in a way, new risks, as we know. Lifestyle risks.

I think the technology is there. The issue of technology is more its availability, that can be an issue of money but it can also an issue of capacity on how to use technology. Which, for many countries and individuals, is really an issue. We need to look at ourselves. The evolution of technology is faster than people’s ability to use it.

Financial resources to acquire it can definitely be a limitation, but an even bigger limitation in many cases is capacity. If you think of money in terms of government’s own investments, which is the most critical one, I think we will see that increasing, as the understanding of what it is you do when you build for resilience, that means risk sensitive infrastructure, risk sensitive agriculture, water management systems. It’s not a standalone issue.

I think we will see an increase in investment. Investment for individuals, for the social side of resilience, in particular the focus on the most poor people, will require a more clear cut decision of policy direction, which can very probably be helped by the agreement later in this year hopefully on the post-2015 universal development agenda. That will, at best, help to put the focus on what needs to be done to continue the very strong focus on poverty reduction.

IPS: Do you think the issue of ODA (official development assistance) has any relevance these days?

MW: In terms of its size and scale, probably not, compared to foreign direct investments, private sector growth. But of course it’s got an enormous important symbolic value, and political value, as a concrete expression of solidarity.

Nevertheless to be very, very fair, still there are a number of countries that depend a lot on ODA, 30-40 percent of their GDP is still based on ODA in one form or the other. Which is probably not that healthy in terms of their policy choices at the end of the day, but that is the current economic reality. Really the need for economic development, the type of investments that stimulate countries’ own economic growth, people’s growth, need to remain a very critical priority.

That’s why I think you see, both in the SDGs discussion and this discussion, such a strong emphasis on the national resource base as the foundation, including for international cooperation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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Middle Income Nations Home to Half the World’s Hungry Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:28:15 +0000 Thalif Deen In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

In Bangladesh, dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children. Credit: Mahmuddun Rashed Manik/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Nearly half of the world’s hungry, amounting to about 363 million people, live in some of the rising middle income countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) calls on these developing nations, described as “rising economic powerhouses,” to reshape their food systems to focus on nutrition and health, close the gender gap in agriculture, and improve rural infrastructure to ensure food security for all.“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the quality of caregiving, among others.” -- Shenggen Fan

“It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI.

The report traces the link between sanitation and nutrition, with findings in Bangladesh that show “dramatic reductions in open defecation contributed to large declines in the number of stunted children.”

The research also found that “Bangladeshi children living in places where open defecation had been reduced were taller than children in neighboring West Bengal, India, where open defecation is still common, even at the same levels of economic wealth.”

“It has become clear that the factors that influence people’s nutrition go well beyond food and agriculture to include drinking water and sanitation, the role of women, the qual­ity of caregiving, among others,” Fan said.

The study also finds strong evidence that food insecurity was a contributing factor to instability in the Middle East.

Additionally, it draws attention to the pressing need to regulate food production to prevent food-borne diseases, help small family farmers move up by increasing their incomes or move out to non-farm employment, improve social protection for the rural poor, and support the role of small-scale fishers in satisfying the global demand for fish.

Asked specifically about the impact of Middle East conflicts on food security, Clemens Breisinger, a senior research fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance division at IFPRI, told IPS food insecurity is quite obviously often a consequence of political instability and conflict.

As such, he said, the number of food insecure people has risen in many Arab countries since 2011, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (three countries ravaged by political turmoil).

“But new research shows that food insecurity can also fuel conflicts, particularly in countries that are net food importing countries and thus vulnerable to global food price shocks,” Breisinger said.

He pointed out Arab countries import about 50 percent of their food and were thus hard hit by the global food price spikes in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Imed Drine, a senior economist at the Islamic Development Bank, says the slump in oil prices continues to upend the global economy and experts believe this is likely to last for several years.

Oil prices dropped by about 50 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the first month of 2015, the second largest annual decline ever where the falling oil prices have helped to push food prices down, according to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Of the regions affected by these declining oil prices, said Drine in a blog post, the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) is affected the most.

That is due to the fact that the majority of its countries depend on oil revenues for growth and because it is the most food imports-dependent region where food dependency ratios exceed 50 percent on average.

Drine says the strong relationship between oil and food prices may be explained by a key fact: “Our modern global food system is highly oil-dependent.”

Oil is the key fuel for production and for transporting food from field to market, and fuel costs, he said, make up as much as 50 to 60 per cent of total shipping costs.

In addition, energy related costs such as fertilisers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel account for close to 50 percent of the production costs for crops such as corn and wheat in some developed countries.

“As a result, declining oil prices will have a direct influence on production costs,” he added.

Furthermore, grain prices have become increasingly linked to the movement of oil markets since more corn is being diverted to biofuel production.

Generally, as demand for these alternative fuels decreases, crop prices are forced down, making food more affordable, Drine added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Millions of Children Impacted by Ebola Outbreak Wed, 18 Mar 2015 18:24:56 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Nine million children live in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, while thousands have lost parents to the virus, according to a new report from The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

More than 24,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been infected with Ebola since the latest strain broke out in January 2014, eventually affecting large areas of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 10,000 people have died.

While reports of new cases have slowed to a trickle, UNICEF has warned Africa and the international community to not become complacent about the virus, and highlighted its devastating effect on children in affected countries.

The ‘Ebola: Getting to zero’ report, released Monday, states the mortality rate for children under age five is 80 per cent, while for children under one year, casualty rates are 95 per cent.

“These children have seen death and suffering beyond their comprehension, UNICEF said.

Up to nine million children live in areas severely affected by the outbreak, described as the most severe in the disease’s history. Five million were deprived of months of education after schools were shut down, while many children did not receive vaccinations.

Medical facilities had “inadequate staffing,” were “poorly equipped,” and “completely unprepared to deal with an outbreak of this nature and scale,” the report stated.

Many parents actually actively avoided healthcare facilities, for fear of contracting the disease.

The report claims children also did not receive vaccinations for other diseases including measles – leading to a confirmed outbreak in Guinea and suspected cases in Liberia – and also impacting the treatment of malaria, malnutrition, HIV and AIDS.

“In Guinea, consultations and hospitalizations were down by about 50 per cent in 2014… In Sierra Leone, the number of children receiving basic immunization fell by 21 per cent and the number of children treated for malaria was down 39 per cent,” UNICEF reported.

The report also stated more than 16,000 children “lost one or both parents, or their primary caregiver” to Ebola. More than 52,000 children also received psychosocial support in the wake of the outbreak.

While the World Health Organisation recently announced Liberia had reported no new cases of Ebola for two consecutive weeks, UNICEF warned complacency should not set in.

“This is definitely not the time to let our guard down,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“We need to get to zero cases, and to do this, we must track down every single case and anyone who may have had contact with an infected person.”

New health and preventative safety procedures have been established across the affected areas, with rapid response units ready to address further outbreaks, and greater education for citizens.

The UNICEF report also called for further funding of nutrition treatment centres to address rising malnutrition, support for vaccination programs, improving access to safe water and sanitation; and basic social services, particularly programs to “protect affected populations from stigma and discrimination.”

“Before the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, this country had enjoyed one of the fastest rates of decline in child mortality,” said Patrick Sijenyi, of UNICEF Liberia’s Child Survival and Development Section.

“For this positive trend to continue it is essential that we stop this outbreak, and invest in stronger health and other social services that are critical to a child’s survival and well-being.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Right Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:21:59 +0000 Serra Sippel

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

By Serra Sippel
WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the bloody attack on civil rights marchers by police.

President Obama issued what was tantamount to a call to action for Americans to speak out for what is right. He stated: “…Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

As a longtime advocate for the health and human rights of women, I take President Obama’s words to heart. They express the core tenet of policy advocacy.

Advocates should applaud and praise government when it does the right thing for women and girls. And when it doesn’t, we must speak out for what’s right, even if it is disruptive and causes discomfort.

Last week, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) hosted a panel at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where panelists from Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and Dandelion Kenya spoke about the brutal sexual violence and rapes that women face, and the absence of comprehensive post rape care for these women and girls, especially when it comes to abortion access.

The discussion was disturbing and emotional as we heard about the fear, stigma, and suffering that so many women face while governments stand by and refuse to provide comfort and care—including the United States.

The status quo – that no U.S. foreign aid should support safe abortion access – is causing too much suffering in this world and it must end.

Only a few months ago the U.N. secretary-general released an important report stating: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

The Obama administration has taken great strides toward women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health in U.S. foreign policy, from the USAID Strategy on Female Empowerment and Gender Equality to the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

And at the United Nations last September, President Obama focused on the serious problem of rape in conflict, acknowledging that, “mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.”

We applaud and praise the administration for such bold action. However, when it comes to reproductive rights and access to safe abortion for women and girls globally, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate the same bold leadership.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. joined governments from around the world in a promise to women and girls that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and available. Today, the U.S. has not lived up to that promise. And when it comes to abortion access for women and girls raped in conflict, inaction by the U.S. government is unconscionable and advocates must speak out.

The time is now for the president to stand with women and girls and take executive action to support abortion access for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The time is now for the president to answer the call to action echoed by advocates from around the world.

We have sent letters to the president from religious leaders and CEOs of global human rights and women’s rights organisations. We have brought advocates from South Africa, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda to speak directly to the White House to implore the president to act.

We rallied in front of the White House asking the president to stand with women and girls. And, we have gathered at CSW to share first-hand accounts of what women and girls are experiencing globally.

Ending the status quo on foreign aid and abortion means to boldly embrace the notion that women and girls matter. Our U.S. foreign aid must be used to save and improve lives—and that is what safe abortion does, especially for those raped in conflict.

CHANGE and others will continue to “speak out for what’s right” and “shake up the status quo,” because the lives of women and girls matter. I hope we can count on President Obama to join us.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainability Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Veto Costs Lives as Syrian Civil War Passes Deadly Milestone Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:27:06 +0000 Thalif Deen The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

As the long drawn-out Syrian military conflict passed a four-year milestone over the weekend, the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) summed it up in a striking headline: 4 years, 4 vetoes, 220,000 dead.

It was a harsh judgment of the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful political body at the United Nations, which critics say is desperately in need of a resurrection."Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history." -- Dr. Simon Adams

The devastating civil war and the sectarian violence in Syria have also displaced over 11 million people – more than half of Syria’s population – with 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for R2P, told IPS Syria is clearly the most tragic failure of the U.N. Security Council in a generation.

“Each veto and the inaction of the Council has been interpreted as a license to kill by atrocity perpetrators in Syria,” he added.

The four vetoes, cast by Russia and China to protect the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were cast in October 2011, February 2012, July 2012 and May 2014.

Dr. Adams said 220,000 dead is a horrifying indictment of the magnitude of the Security Council’s failure in Syria. “They constitute 220,000 reasons why we need reform of the veto rights of the five permanent members when it comes to mass atrocity crimes.”

The five (P-5) holding veto powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and each of them has exercised the veto mostly to protect their close allies or their national interests over the years.

Since the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago, the two big powers have cast the most number of vetoes: a total of 79 by the United States and 11 by the Russian Federation (plus 90 by its predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), while China’s tally is nine, according to the latest available figures.

“The veto costs lives. Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history. They have a responsibility to protect and a responsibility not to veto,” Dr. Adams said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently called for a political solution, said the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.

They and their neighbours, he said, continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community that is divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.

Retracing the violent history of the ongoing conflict, Ban recalled that it began in March 2011, when thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.

But this legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold, he added.

In what appeared to be a diplomatic turnaround, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not ruled out a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” he said during a television interview Sunday, although the U.S. has been supporting rebel forces trying to overthrow the Assad regime by military means.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, a Hollywood celebrity and Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “People are entitled to feel bewildered and angry that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to respond to the worst crisis of the 21st century.”

She said it is shameful that even the basic demand for full humanitarian access has not been met.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries and international humanitarian agencies are being stretched beyond their limits.

“And it is sickening that crimes are being committed against the Syrian people on a daily basis with impunity. The failure to end this crisis diminishes all of us,” Jolie declared.

Ban said the lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

Each day, he said, brings reports of fresh horrors: executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Daesh (the Islamic State) and other extremist groups.

Dr. Adams told IPS President Assad and all atrocity perpetrators in Syria belong in handcuffs at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“The U.N. Security Council has failed to end a conflict that has already cost 220,000 lives, but the least they can do now is refer the situation to the ICC so that victims have some chance of justice,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Lyndal Rowlands

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sendai Conference Stresses Importance of Women’s Leadership Mon, 16 Mar 2015 19:59:01 +0000 Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Jamshed Baruah/IPS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri/IPS

By Jamshed Baruah and Katsuhiro Asagiri
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

Women play a critical role in reducing disaster risk and planning and decision-making during and after disasters strike, according to senior United Nations, government and civil society representatives.

In fact, efforts at reducing risks can never be fully effective or sustainable if the needs and voices of women are ignored, they agreed.WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

Even at risk of their own health and well-being, women are most heavily impacted but often overcome immense obstacles to lead response efforts and provide care and support to those hit hard by disasters, said participants in a high-level multi-stakeholder Partnership Dialogue during the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan, from Mar. 14 to 18.

Participants in the conference’s first of several intergovernmental high-level partnership dialogues, on ‘Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction’, included the heads of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In an interview with IPS, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said the Sendai Conference offers “a new opportunity for the world to galvanise around a common disaster risk reduction agenda and commit to collective actions that put women at its centre”.

The fact that serious gaps remain in the area is not for lack of guidance and tools on relevant gender-based approaches and best practices. What is needed is requisite political will to make sure that women’s voices were enhanced and participation ensured. All such efforts must bolster women’s rights, included sexual and reproductive health rights, he said.

Osotimehin pleaded for key actions at all levels, and stressed that dedicated resources are lacking and as such, money must be devoted to disaster risk reduction and women must be empowered to play a real role in that area.

He pointed out that sustained and sustainable disaster risk reduction requires an accountability framework with indicators and targets to measure progress and ensure that national and local actors move towards implementation.

A physician and public health expert, before Osotimehin became UNFPA chief in January 2011 in the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS, which coordinates HIV and AIDS work in a country of about 180 million people.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underscored that the “global reset” that began on Mar. 14 in Sendai must include steps to place women at the centre of disaster risk reduction efforts.

As several other speakers and heads of governments also emphasised in several other fora, Cousin said the WCDRR is the first of a crucial series of U.N.-backed conferences and meetings set for 2015 respectively on development financing, sustainable development and climate change, all aimed at ensuring a safer and more prosperous world for all.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed similar sentiments in a keynote address. He said that Japan had long understood the importance of enhancing the voice, visibility and participation of women.

For example, if a disaster struck during the middle of the day, most of the people at home would be women so their perspective is essential “absolutely essential for restoring devastated”.

“’No matter how much the ground shakes, we will remain calm in our hearts,’” said Prime Minister Abe, quoting the powerful words of women in one of the districts he had visited in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and pledging Japan’s ongoing strong commitment to ensuring all women played a greater role in disaster risk reduction.

Abe announced that boosting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction would be a key element of the country’s new programme of international support.

He said: “Today I announced Japan’s new cooperation initiative for disaster risk reduction. Under this initiative, over the next four years, Japan will train 40,000 officials and people in local regions around the world as leaders who will play key roles in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction.

“One of the major projects that will be undertaken through this initiative is the launch of the Training to Promote Leadership by Women in Disaster Risk Reduction. Furthermore, at the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo to be held this summer, one of the themes will be ‘Women and Disaster Risk Reduction’.”

Abe said, “We are launching concrete projects in nations around the world” and would build on existing efforts to promote women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction in such partner countries as Fiji, Solomon Islands, and other Pacific island nations.

“We have dispatched experts in the field of community disaster risk reduction to conduct training focusing on women over a three-year period … Now these women have become leaders and are carrying on their own activities to spread knowledge about disaster risk reduction to other women in their communities,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Four Ways Women Bring Lasting Peace to the Table Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:52:33 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands

2015 marks anniversaries for two significant commitments made to increasing women’s participation at peace tables.

Yet despite the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council Resolution 1325 both committing to increasing women’s participation in peace building 20 and 15 years ago, respectively, there has been very little progress to report.

The latest available statistics show that women made up only 9 per cent of negotiators at peace tables between 1992 and 2011. That the most recent data is from 2011 shows that more work is needed even in basic areas such as data collection and reporting of women’s participation in peace building.

IPS summarises here four reasons we should value women’s participation at the peace table more, based on discussions at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) over the past week.

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken

Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

Often the first people invited to participate in formal peace negotiations are the people holding the guns and the last are women who have expertise in building lasting peace.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told a CSW side event on Tuesday last week, “In the Central African Republic, the only community where they were not killing each other was a community where the Christian women said, ‘These Muslim women are our sisters.’

“Why? Because the women in the community said, ‘We have lived together for the last 100 years’,” Bangura said.

In the Phillipines, Irene Santiago was a member of the government panel that negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Santiago came to the table with years of experience working with Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women leaders for peace.

Speaking at a CSW side event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) on Thursday, Santiago said that she knew that her years of experience working with civil society for peace stood her in good stead to make a significant contribution to formal peace negotiations, which she did.

Speaking with IPS, Santiago said women’s voices not only have to be heard, but that they also have to be acted on.

“For women. It’s almost never always about themselves, it’s always about our children, our husbands but also about our communities,” Santiago told IPS.

In Africa, women have fought to be included in peacemaking, even when their contributions have not been recognised.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security to the African Union, says that mediators need to be held accountable when they only invite the people who hold guns to the peace table and ignore women’s contributions.

“I have been involved in many crises where women were knocking at the door and saying we want to be at the table,” Diop said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, known as the father of Security Council Resolution 1325, said that the determination of African women to be involved in peace negotiations should be seen as an inspiration by other countries.

Despite serious difficulties, war and conflict, African women have shown continued determination to hold their countries accountable, Chowdhury said.

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

Also speaking at the IPI, Valerie Hudson, co-author of ‘Sex and World Peace’, said that her research has shown that the way women are treated within a country is one of the most accurate indicators of the quality of relations that country will have with other countries.

Diop agreed with Hudson, saying that countries that are likely to fall into conflict have higher levels of discrimination and inequality.

“Discrimination against women, especially the non-participation and non-inclusion of women in democracy is … one of the root causes of the conflict,” Diop said.

Ambassador Choudhury agreed with these sentiments, telling IPS, “I believe that no country can claim that their country is not in conflict if women’s rights are denied, if women’s equality is not ensured, if women’s participation at all participation levels is not there.

“I think that if we women are violated, if women’s equality of participation is not there we cannot say that we are at peace, we are in conflict with ourselves. This is a conflict which is happening within ourselves and within the countries. We don’t have to go into the traditional description of conflict, civil conflict or fighting with another country,” Chowdhury added.

Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute also speaking at the IPI event said, “A world where 51 per cent are ignored is a dangerous world for everyone. I can’t imagine why any men would be indifferent to this.”

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

Several discussions at the CSW questioned why militaries were the primary actors in peace building, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society’s expertise was not called on.

Santiago told IPS that civil society, especially women, have a lot to contribute to humanise, to concretise, and to make peace negotiations relevant to people’s lives.

Winnie Kodi from the Nuba mountains in Sudan told reporters on Monday that civil society was vital to helping indigenous communities like her own that have been affected by conflict. She said that the main way her people were able to have their voices heard was by working together with NGOs and civil society.

Chowdhury told IPS he is advocating for the U.N. and governments to hold more consultations with civil society, saying that the involvement of women and of civil society is very important.

Santiago also called for renewed focus on the important role of NGOs in the area of women, peace and security,

“Again I see that why are we focusing on the UN as the locus of change,” she said. “To me it is not, it is the means, it is an important audience, but it is not the locus of social change.

“Let us form the global civic networks that we need to bring about the local global and civil change that we need” Santiago said.

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

Challenging militarism and militarisation was another theme discussed during the first week of the CSW, particularly by civil society groups at the parallel NGO forum.

Choudhury told IPS that increased militarism and militarisation is slowing down efforts for equality. “Increasing militarism and militarisation has really been effecting women in a very negative way. This is something that women should stand up against, we should all stand up against,” Chowdhury said.

Militarisation is also affecting indigenous women and men. Maribeth Biano, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, told reporters on Monday that Indigenous women are hugely affected by militarisation in Indigenous territories.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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