Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:20:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Looking into the Eyes of Central American Refugees in a Time of Hate and Fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 04:00:35 +0000 Madeleine Penman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148007 The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

By Madeleine Penman
MEXICO CITY, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Ten years ago I arrived in Mexico for the first time. A heavy backpack strapped around my waist, I toddled over a large, concrete bridge that divides Mexico and Guatemala.

When I crossed the border, a man with his shirt unbuttoned down to his belly and sweat pouring down his chest took my passport, glanced at it for no more than two seconds, then stamped it with a smile and cheerily barked to me “welcome to Mexico.”

My entry into Mexico couldn’t have been easier, because I’m from Australia and don’t need a visa. But for hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and entire families fleeing violence and crossing Mexico’s southern border from some of the most dangerous corners of the world, it is a very different story.

Instead of a smile, they will face unfounded suspicion, fear, prejudice and even hate.

Knowing full well of the likelihood of being denied entrance and, instead, facing possible deportation to the war-like horrors and violence in Honduras and El Salvador, many are effectively forced to enter clandestinely.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

Ten years after I used this border crossing for the first time, I came back as part of an international observation mission and have spoken to dozens of people whose lives have been turned upside down. We spoke to a man in a wheelchair who had lost both of his legs when he fell off the freight train dubbed “The Beast” that migrants and asylum-seekers travel on top of to get through Mexico. He was taken to a hospital in Mexico, who then referred him to Mexican migration authorities. He told us that migration authorities ignored his request to lodge an asylum claim and deported him back to Honduras straight away. He said he spent just four days there, fearing for his life, and then came back to Mexico immediately. He had still been unable to lodge an asylum claim given his fear of being detained.

Some 400,000 people are estimated to be crossing Mexico’s southern border every year. Many of these are in need of international protection, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on governments in the region to recognise the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Amnesty’s own research has shown how the generalised violence in El Salvador and Honduras makes them some of the deadliest places on the planet. A few days ago, I spoke to a young fisherman from El Salvador who had fled his country with more than 30 members of his family because the extortions and war taxes that criminal gangs imposed on them at home, and impose on entire industries in El Salvador in order to let them operate, made living there impossible. Saying no to gangs (“maras”) often means a death sentence.

Mexico has a history of receiving people fleeing violence and showing solidarity and hospitality to those in need of protection.

In the 1980s, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled civil war and came as refugees to Mexico. Thirty years later, Mexico seems to be forgetting this welcoming face. On mission, well after we crossed the border and were inside Mexican territory, in a stretch of just two hundred kilometres along the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, we went through seven migratory control checkpoints that at times includes military personnel, federal police and many migration agents ready to detain anyone without papers.

Mexico has invested significant resources in enforcement and security along its southern border in recent years. Some of this money comes from US government funding from the Merida Initiative, an extensive security assistance package.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The increase in checkpoints and security has resulted in a spike in detentions and deportations of Central American people from Mexico, in many cases returning people to threats, attacks and even killings. Of all the checkpoints I passed through, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a special customs control centre that stood out on the highway like an enormous spaceship, airport, or prison. It had Federal Police officers, an army barracks, customs, bright lights, watch towers, and an incredible amount of infrastructure.

The problem with this focus on detentions, enforcement, security and deportations is that many people who are in danger and should be recognised as refugees are not being identified by Mexican migration agents.

Under international and domestic law, migration agents are obliged to refer anyone who expresses a fear of returning to their countries to Mexico´s refugee agency, COMAR – Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados.

However, the vast majority of people are detained and returned to their countries with their fears being overlooked. Why is this so? Do authorities really think that traumatised people fleeing their countries are such a threat? Are they hearing their stories?

I met a woman who told me that in Honduras, as a woman, she couldn’t wear skirts, tights, she couldn’t dye her hair, she could barely do anything without gangs threatening her. She spoke to me on the side of the road, with no money, waiting to move to find transport that could take her to a safer place. Others from El Salvador told me that just transiting between one neighbourhood and another put you at risk, as gangs would suspect you as a possible rival for being an outsider.

We are living in a time of extreme hate and fear. Unless we listen to people´s stories and act, our societies and policies will continue to create walls of prejudice rather than bridges of protection and justice. After this trip along Mexico’s southern border, more than ever I pledge to welcome refugees, in my heart and in my society. I hope you can look into their eyes and welcome them too.

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Children of the ‘Others’, Sons of Minor Godshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:23:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147885 UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

In December 1946, “faced with the reality of millions of children suffering daily deprivation in Europe after World War II,” the General Assembly of the United Nations created the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to mount urgent relief programmes.

In keeping with the ethos of the United Nations, UNICEF’s mandate was—and still is, to provide aid “without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.”

It is so that the sole condition made by Maurice Pate upon his appointment as the organisation’s first Executive Director was “that it include all children” from both Allied and “ex-enemy countries.”

Seventy years later, as Europe copes with a refugee crisis not seen since it was founded, the organisation remains an ever-present advocate for children’s rights, UNICEF reminds.

“It is uniquely positioned among humanitarian and development agencies to respond not only to the needs of children displaced by disaster and armed conflict, but also to work for a better future for all children.”

And in spite of the growing shortages of funds to the United Nations system at large, this New York-based organisation strives to alleviate the huge suffering of hundreds of millions of children trapped in wars, violence, abuse, exploitation, smuggling, sexual violations, trade of vital organs and death.

UNICEF believes that there is hope for every child. “The conviction that every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy, safe childhood is a constant threat through the history of the organisation. Its continued viability depends on applying past lessons learned to the challenges ahead, and harnessing the power of innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems. “

As envisioned by current executive director Anthony Lake, this will require a “willingness to adapt and find new ways to realise the rights and brighten the futures of the most disadvantaged children around the world.” “UNICEF understands that the spiral of poverty, disease and hunger stifles global development and leads to violations of children’s human rights.”

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

So far, so good. But not enough. Recent facts show the increasingly dramatic situation children face worldwide. UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report mentioned in July this year, some key findings:

16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

• The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.

• Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.

• Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

• Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.

Marking this year’s UN Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF Executive Director said “When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future.”

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Established on 20 November 1954, UN Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

20 November also marked the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

“[Children’s rights are] being violated around the world, in every country, wherever children are the victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, violated wherever they are deprived of an education.”

“[Their rights are violated] wherever they are denied the chance to make the most of their potential simply because of their race, their religion, their gender, their ethnic group, or because they are living with a disability,” he added.

Lake cautioned on the long-term impact of these violations in how children may view the world when they grow up and how they will perceive others’ rights when their own rights are violated.

“These children are the future leaders of their societies […] the future parents and protectors of the next generation.”

UNICEF’s total resources for the period 2014–2017 amount to 26,700.7 million dollars. Please consider that the world spends 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons.

In either case, these amounts come out of citizens’ pockets. Should they not choose whether their money should be spent to saving children or producing death machines that kill children, women and men?

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New Fund Aims to Help Build Resilience to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:15:59 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147844 Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
MARRAKECH, Nov 18 2016 (IPS)

The world has been too slow in responding to climate events such as El Niño and La Niña, and those who are the “least responsible are the ones suffering most”, Mary Robinson, the special envoy on El Niño and Climate, told IPS at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22).

The first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Robinson was appointed earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the new mandate involving climate change and El Niño."I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious." -- Mary Robinson

During the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Robinson strongly advocated for engaging community-led solutions and for incorporating gender equality and women’s participation in the climate talks.

“Global warming is accelerating too much and it is being aggravated by El Niño and La Niña. They do not have to become a humanitarian disaster, but people have now been left to cope for themselves…I think we were too slow in many instances and this has become a humanitarian disaster for the 60 million people who are food insecure and suffering from droughts,” she said.

El Niño has been directly associated with droughts and floods in many parts of the world that have severely impacted millions of livelihoods. A warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific waters, the phenomenon occurs on average every three to seven years and sea surface temperatures across the Pacific can warm more than 1 degree C.

El Niño is a natural occurrence, but scientists believe it is becoming more intense as a result of global warming.

How El Niño interacts with climate change is not 100 percent clear, but many of the countries that are now experiencing El Niño are also vulnerable to climate variations. According to Robinson, El Niño and its climate-linked emergencies are a threat to human security and, therefore, a threat to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced in September 2015 as the 2030 Agenda replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

“I have gone to Central America to the dry corridor in Honduras and have seen women crying because there is no water and they feel very neglected. They feel they are left behind and that nobody seems to know about them. I saw in Ethiopia severely malnourished children, it could affect them for life in terms of being stunted. The same thing in southern Africa. I feel I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious. We need to understand the urgency of taking the necessary steps,” Robinson said.

Drought and flooding associated with El Niño created enormous problems across East Africa, Southern Africa, Central America and the Pacific. Ethiopia, where Robinson has visited earlier this year, is experiencing its worst drought in half a century. One million children in Eastern and Southern Africa alone are acutely malnourished.

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015, according to an assessment released at the COP22 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event.

These long-term changes in the climate have exacerbated social, humanitarian and environmental pressures. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees pointed that in 2015, more than 19 million new displacements were associated with weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries, more than twice as many as for conflict and violence.

“We need a much more concerted response and fund preparedness. If we have a very strategic early warning system, we can deal with the problem much more effectively. Building resilience in communities is the absolute key. We need to invest in support for building resilience now rather than having a huge humanitarian disaster,” stressed Robinson.

On Nov. 17, during the COP22 in Marrakech, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) – a coalition led by France, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada launched at the Paris climate change negotiations in 2015 – announced a new goal to mobilise more than 30 million dollars by July 2017 and 100 million by 2020.

The international partnership aims to strengthen risk information and early warning systems in vulnerable countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and small island developing states in the Pacific. The idea is to leverage financing to protect populations exposed to extreme climate events.

There will be a special focus on women, who are particularly vulnerable to climate menaces but are the protagonists in building resilience. “Now we’ve moved from the Paris negotiations to implementation on the ground. Building resilience is key and it must be done in a way that is gender sensitive with full account of gender equality and also human rights. We must recognize the role of women as agents for change in their communities,” Robinson emphasised.

The number of climate-related disasters has more than doubled over the past 40 years, said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“This initiative will help reduce the impact of these events on low and middle-income countries which suffer the most,” he said.

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS, “We can see already in Africa the impact of climate change that is undermining our efforts to bring food security for all. Take the example of El Niño that has affected all of Africa in the last two years. Countries that had made fantastic progress like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania and Madagascar are now suffering hunger again. Countries that have eradicated hunger are back to face it again. We need to adapt.”

Climate change has different impacts on men and women, girls and boys, told IPS Edith Ofwona, the senior program specialist at International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“Gender is critical. We must recognise it is not about women alone,” she said. “[But] women are important because they provide the largest labour force, mainly in the agricultural sector. It is important to appreciate the differences in the impacts, the needs in terms of response. There is need for balance, affirmative action and ensuring all social groups are taken into consideration.”

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Somali Refugees “Coerced” Out of Kenya: Amnestyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/somali-refugees-coerced-out-of-kenya-amnesty/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2016 21:32:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147755 Somali refugees in Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Somali refugees in Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2016 (IPS)

The Kenyan government is driving many of its 300,000 refugees back to war-torn Somalia, said Amnesty International in a new report.

In May, the East African nation announced its plans to close the Dadaab Camp, the world’s largest refugee camp, after citing economic, security and environmental concerns as well as waning international support.

Ahead of its 30 November deadline, Amnesty International found that government officials have threatened refugees to leave despite their previous promise to ensure refugee repatriations are voluntary.

“The refugees are caught between a rock and a hard place. Kenyan government officials are telling them they must leave by the end of the month or they will be forced to leave without any assistance,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Michelle Kagari.

While speaking to refugees, Amnesty International learned of the threats refugees are receiving including lack of financial and transportation support if they do not leave.

“The refugees are caught between a rock and a hard place." -- Michelle Kagari.

“[Kenyan authorities’]…came to our block areas with microphones and said: ‘You have to go register yourselves to go to Somalia…if you don’t register yourself now, you will have to go on foot with your babies on your backs,’” Hadi, a 24-year Dadaab resident, told the organisation.

According to the UN Refugee Agency and Kenya’s government, only 25 percent of refugees said they are willing to return to Somalia. Many refugees expressed concerns about relocation due to ongoing insecurity in the Somalia.

Despite the installation of an internationally-backed government, Somalia’s civil war, which began in the 1990s, has raged on with multiple groups including Al-Shabab vying for territorial and political control.

The unrest has led to up to one million civilian deaths and over 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Additionally, the country has been undergoing a drought, leaving approximately five million, or 40 percent of the population, without sufficient access to food.

As a result, the country lacks basic services needed to support a large-scale influx of refugees from Dadaab.

Mouna, a mother of a disabled child, told Amnesty International said that she cannot return because Somalia does not have the necessary services to support people with disabilities.

“There are no facilities for disabled people in Somalia. As refugees we are already considered last in everything. With children with disabilities we will be right at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving help,” she said.

Amnesty International called for the international community to step up and support Kenya and its refugees including increased resettlement places and safe and sustainable integration into host communities.

“Rather than focusing on returning refugees to Somalia, where they are at risk of further human rights abuses, the international community should be working with Kenya to ensure long-term sustainable solutions,” said Kagari.

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

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 4 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP

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

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

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International Women’s Boat to Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-womens-boat-to-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 15:25:01 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147588 Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of Peace People, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. ]]> “I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,”  Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

“I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,” Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

By Mairead Maguire
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A few weeks ago, the US government agreed to give Israel $38 billion dollars, the largest military funding package the U.S. has given any nation.

This $38 billion in military and other type of Aid will be used to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza, and continue Israel’s military occupation, and imposition of an apartheid state, upon the Palestinian people.

This money will be used in the training fields of Israeli military, which are in Gaza, where military experiments are done, using US military weaponry, by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

The U.S. military and government is complicit in the crimes against the people of Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territory by the use of military hardware given by USA and by the training that Israelis give to Americans and USA gives to Israel. It is also estimated that some 70% of European humanitarian aid to Palestine ends up in Israeli pockets.

Gaza continues to suffer from the continuing Israeli blockade, naval and land, and this 25-mile-long tiny strip, 5 miles wide, with l.9 million people, living in it, is a brutal blockade and Israel controls everything including electricity, food, etc.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Indeed, everything that comes into Gaza comes through Israeli hands. Gaza’s only airport was completely destroyed in 2002 by Israeli jets and ground forces.

Egypt continues to be a part of this blockade as they have blocked Gaza’s southern border; and Egypt continues to receive USA military funding.

Medical authorities have reported that the time for operations in Gaza now goes up to 2025 as so many are awaiting health care, and the increasing issues around food, water, sewage, electricity, all of these mounting problems have led the U.N. to declare in their latest Report, that by the year 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable.

What hope is there for the Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are young people?

In order to give hope to the people of Gaza by showing solidarity and support the Women’s Boat to Gaza sailed in September 2016.

Also we sailed in order to challenge this illegal and immoral blockade and occupation of Palestine by Israel, and draw international attention to the fact that under Geneva Conventions it is illegal to punish civilians, which is what Israeli government policies continues to do.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza set sail from the Spanish Port city of Barcelona (Barcelona is twinned with Gaza) in mid- September 2016.

The three legs of the trip were 1715 miles from Barcelona to Ajaccio, Corsica, France and then down to Messina in Sicily, Italy. It was hoped to have two boats but when one developed engine trouble in Barcelona, the other 50’ sailing boat, Zaytouna-Oliva, continued alone.

At all Ports the women were greeted and hosted by mayors, officials, and supporters of the Free Palestine Movement. Over 40 women from around the world flew to Messina in hopes of being able to sail to Gaza.

I joined the boat in Messina, and was grateful to be chosen as one of the 13 women from thirteen countries, being finally chosen to sail to Gaza. It was sad for those of us sailing to leave behind so many wonderful women due to not enough boats to sail, but it is hoped the Palestinian Coalition will be able to get more sailings to accommodate those wishing to go on a future occasion.

The 13 chosen participants included Ann Wright, (boat leader) the captain and two crew, two Al Jazeera journalists, and women from USA, Ireland, Russia, UK, Spain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden/Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, and Algeria.

The third leg of the journey from Messina to Gaza was almost 1000 miles and a nine-day journey. On 29th September 2016, we set sail from Messina, Sicily, after a wonderful reception from the mayor, the Muslim community, and many Palestinian friends in Messina.

The first few days sailing the weather was rough and many of us were seasick, but several days into the journey we had got our sea-legs and busied ourselves helping with the tasks to be done such as cooking, reporting, night watches with the crew, etc.

We shared our stories and held nonviolence training. It was a wonderful experience getting to know the women whose courage was inspiring. Their love for the Palestinian people and their freedom was very deep.

Unfortunately, some 400 miles from Messina, with some 600 miles to go, we had problems with the boats rigging. An appeal to friends in Crete resulted in a boatful of people coming out to meet us, bringing many gifts of food, and four men to fix the rigging!

This was for me one of the most moving experiences of the journey, and it proved yet again, the magnificence of the human spirit.

Around 20 men and women answered our call for help and came to our aid, and all for the people of Gaza. After the men fixed our boat rigging, we passed greetings to our rescuers from Crete and sailed in a happy and hope filled mood towards Gaza.

On Wednesday 5th October, we were contacted by the Israeli navy by phone. A few hours earlier all communications via our own phones were cut off. The Israeli navy communicator told Captain Madeleine that we were nearing the 20-mile military Israeli security zone and were breaking Israeli law. They said if we did not turn back or agree to be escorted to Ashdod, they would confiscate our boat and take us to Israel.

However, we kept sailing towards Gaza. We saw several Navy military ships on the horizon. At 6 p.m., a Zodiac boat came alongside our boat.

There were 30 Israeli sailors including Israeli women sailors who were the first to come on board our boat. They were not in combat gear. They wore baseball caps, and long sleeved jerseys. In 2010, I had been on the Rachel Corrie Irish/Malaysian boat, which was part of the Freedom Flotilla and when we were boarded by Israeli sailors, they were in combat gear, with rifles, and sniffer dogs, and we were handcuffed and forcibly taken to Israel.

I was surprised when this different approach was used to confiscate our boat, the Zaytouna. In 2010, on the Mavi Marmara, the Israelis murdered nine people, and subsequently a 10th person died as 50 people were wounded. Therefore, the treatment of our women’s boat to Gaza participants was very different from what happened on previous ones where I had travelled.

On the Zaytouna, when the Israeli navy sailors confiscated our boat, took us under protest against our will to Israel, arrested, held us for several days without contact with our families, and deported us for ten years, it was all completely illegal under international law. However, it is sad to report that no governments or international bodies have taken up our case for being hijacked, and again the Israeli government has been allowed to break international laws.

All the women were deeply saddened as we knew many people in Gaza were preparing for our visit, and yet again Israel was denying our entry into Gaza. So as we watched the coastline of Gaza in complete darkness and then the coastline of Israel fully lit up against the night sky, we were again witnessing the injustice and unfairness of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. With this experience, many of us committed in our hearts to continue our support for the Palestinian people’s ongoing work to break the blockade and end the occupation.

We also saw just off the coast of Gaza two huge gas rigs fully lit up and whose gas is piped to Israel. Yet Gaza has only a few hours of light, as Israeli bombings have destroyed most of its electricity and sewage infrastructures.

When we reached Ashdod, Israel, after six hours sailing, we were processed by Israeli security and searched, taken to Prison and released two days later. All the women on board the Zaytouna, now have a ten-year deportation order. As this is my 4th time being given a 10-year deportation order, it will be 40 years before I can return to Israel or get into Palestine.

This thought reminds me that there are over 7 million Palestinian people who cannot return to their country, and this is why it is so important to campaign for the right to return for the Palestinian people.

I would like to thank the Freedom Flotilla Coalition who gave us the opportunity to participate on the journey to Gaza. Their work of joining in solidarity with the people of Gaza is so important and I thank them for all they do.

To the Palestinian people of Gaza, please keep your hopes high and believe that freedom and peace will come. Thank you for your perseverance and ongoing inspiration to us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 31 October 2016: TMS: International Women’s Boat to Gaza

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children Breathe Faster, Take in More Air than Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Pollution Kills Seven Million People a Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Int’l Effort to Help Ethiopia Shoulder Its Refugee Burdenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/intl-effort-to-help-ethiopia-shoulder-its-refugee-burden/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=intl-effort-to-help-ethiopia-shoulder-its-refugee-burden http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/intl-effort-to-help-ethiopia-shoulder-its-refugee-burden/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 10:11:18 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147575 Young South Sudanese refugees studying in the library of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Addis Ababa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Young South Sudanese refugees studying in the library of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Addis Ababa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A concerned-looking group of refugees gather around a young woman grimacing and holding her stomach, squatting with her back against a tree. But this is no refugee camp, rather the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) compound just off a busy main road leading to Sidist Kilo roundabout in the Ethiopian capital.

After a couple of minutes, the pain has subsided enough to let her talk. She says has been experiencing abdominal pains for a few weeks, though in answer to one particular question she manages a smile before replying she doesn’t think it’s a pregnancy. She says she arrived from Eritrea about seven months ago in an attempt to join her husband in Italy.“Refugees in Ethiopia is a business, that’s what needs to be addressed. But it’s not just here, it’s happening all over Africa.” -- Shikatende, a Congolese refugee in Addis Ababa

Ever since Ethiopia’s late long-term ruler Meles Zenawi established an open-door policy toward refugees, the country’s refugee population has swelled to more than 700,000, the largest in Africa. And due to ongoing crises in neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, that number isn’t shrinking. In the first week of October about 31,000 people streamed over the border from South Sudan into Ethiopia’s western region.

Providing refuge, however, doesn’t extend to also providing employment rights. Ethiopia has plenty on its hands trying to satisfy its indigenous mushrooming young population that needs jobs. Hence the joint initiative by the UK, the European Union and the World Bank to address both dilemmas through the building of two industrial parks to generate about 100,000 jobs, at a cost of 500 million dollars, with Ethiopia required to grant employment rights to 30,000 refugees as part of the deal.

But after the announcement comes the thornier issue: putting it all into action.

“All the stakeholders of this project need to get their heads together and come up with a workable formula that would benefit both Ethiopians and the refugees,” says Kisut Gebreegziabher with the Ethiopia office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “There needs to be a clear policy of engaging the refugees in this project, including clarity about the level of their engagement.”

Yemeni-Ethiopian women stuck in Ethiopia due to fighting in Yemen. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Yemeni-Ethiopian women stuck in Ethiopia due to fighting in Yemen. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The initiative is part of a pilot programme also supporting Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali, and according to those involved, reflective of a new strategy for tackling the migrant crisis afflicting both Europe and Africa, based on a shift in developmental aid toward focusing on economic transformation in developing countries.

“We’re putting migrant-related issues at the heart of our support to countries,” Francisco Carreras, Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union to Ethiopia, says of the 250 million dollars coming from the EU. “Our investment is not going to solve the problem but it may have a domino effect by showing others that this can work.”

Hopeless days

“I’ve been idle for three years and my plan is to remain idle, that’s all I can do,” says 28-year-old Daniel, a qualified dentist who fled Eritrea for Ethiopia after his involvement with a locally produced publication drew the government’s wrath. Based on his qualifications he managed to find a potential healthcare job in Addis Ababa. “The employer said I was a good match but when he checked with the authorities they said I couldn’t be employed.”

Although Ethiopia’s authorities often turn a blind eye to refugees doing casual work, Ethiopia’s proclamation on refugees prohibits them from official employment.

“If Ethiopia feels for refugees, why doesn’t it change the law so they can work?” says Shikatende, a 35-year-old Congolese refugee who has been in Ethiopia for seven years. “It’s a free prison here. We are free to stay but with no hope or future.”

A change in the law will be required for the industrial park initiative, observers say, although any wholesale opening of Ethiopia’s job market to refugees is highly unlikely while Ethiopia’s 100 million population continues growing by 2.6 percent a year.

“That means creating millions of new jobs every year, the challenge for Ethiopia is huge,” Carreras says, adding that the giving of millions of euros to Ethiopia is far from altruism. “It’s in our own interests and a matter of survival for us: we can’t be surrounded by countries in difficulties and expect that building a wall or the sea alone will keep us sanitized from others’ problems.”

In the Jesuit Refugee Service compound in Addis Ababa, South Sudanese play their dominoes with much passion. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In the Jesuit Refugee Service compound in Addis Ababa, South Sudanese play their dominoes with much passion. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Now in its 20th year, the JRS compound resembles a microcosm of Africa’s—and the Middle East’s—troubles, hosting refugees from South Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Burundi and more. The organisation aims to assist 1,700 people in 2016, says Hanna Petros, the centre’s director, noting that Addis Ababa contains up to 20,000 refugees. “That’s registered ones—there are others who aren’t registered.”

Build it and they will come…or will they?

Despite his enthusiasm for the project, Carreras admits that success requires fending off myriad challenges.

“You’ve got to build the right sectors in the right places and ensure the right procurement—achieving all those ‘rights’ isn’t easy,” he says. And even if all that is pulled off, he adds, you’ve then got to attract the investors, after which you have to make sure it’s all sustainable: investors must obtain enough profit so they remain and don’t leave after a couple of years.

Those connected to the Ethiopian government appear confident that history is on Ethiopia’s side.

“Thirty years ago, large-scale labour left the U.S. and Europe and moved to China,” says Zemedeneh Negatu, an economic adviser to the Ethiopian government. “But monthly labour costs there now are around 450 to 600 dollars a month—Ethiopia is a fraction of that, added to which a lot of the raw materials are already coming from here.”

Hence Ethiopia’s embracing of industrial parks, which Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has placed at the forefront of economic strategy.

In addition to the two parks being funded by the joint initiative, another seven are in the process of being built at a rough cost of 250 million dollars each. One industrial park is already operating around Awassa, about 300km south of Addis Ababa, where it’s serving as a promising bellwether having attracted more investor interest than it could accommodate, Carreras says.

But all of a sudden Ethiopia’s reputation as a safe investment option—attracting tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment over the past decade—is looking increasingly tenuous.

Protests against the government that have been smouldering since November 2015 have taken on a more violent edge recently. At the beginning of October, more than two dozen foreign companies suffered millions of dollars in damage.

The timing clearly doesn’t help when it comes to luring foreign investors into industrial parks. By the middle of October foreign embassies in the capital were holding situation briefings with concerned investors to try and allay mounting concerns. And at least those foreign investors have options.

“The situation makes me nervous,” Daniel says. “Not only am I a foreigner but I’m from an enemy country. It could get bad. They can beat me or kill me, there’s no one to protect me.”

Wrong sort of human capital

“It was a bold and brave decision by Ethiopia to offer to take in foreigners when so many of its own have dire needs,” Carreras says, contrasting this stance with how Hungary recently voted against housing about 18,000 refugees.

But at the same time, there is a less salubrious side to the refugee situation in Ethiopia. Encountering groups of refugees in Addis Ababa, it’s not long before someone is sidling up to you, eyes furtively glancing around, wanting to talk about problems.

Many have harsh words for both UNHCR and Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), while giving an impression of rank corruption in certain areas.

Refugees talk of thousands of dollars changing hands so Ethiopians can pose as refugees for resettlement in Europe, scholarship funding meant for refugees being given to Ethiopians, and the numbers of refugees in Ethiopia being inflated to ensure foreign funding keeps coming in.

“The numbers are accurate and based on research by UNHCR,” says Zeynu Jernal, ARRA’s deputy director. “We gain no financial benefits from the Ethiopian operation and are in fact underfunded—last year the required 280-million-dollar budget was only 60 percent funded.”

Zeynu acknowledges that giving 30,000 refugees jobs still leaves many more without—hence other schemes being initiated: 20,000 refugee households being given land so they can farm, thereby benefiting a total of about 100,000; 13,000 long-term Somali refugees being integrated into the eastern city of Jijiga with resident and work permits; and higher education opportunities for refugees who pass the university entrance exams.

In official quarters there is praise for the industrial park initiative, with talk of how it fits into a “new and all-encompassing approach towards alleviating the plight of refugees staying in Ethiopia” through better and more work opportunities, and through improved local integration and assimilation. Some of the refugees in Addis Ababa who have been following news about the initiative online, however, seem less sure whether refugees will really benefit.

“Refugees in Ethiopia is a business, that’s what needs to be addressed,” Shikatende says. “But it’s not just here, it’s happening all over Africa.”

He adds that another problem is the muddling of three types of refugees: economic refugees seeking better work opportunities, so-called supporter refugees trying to join relatives who have already settled abroad, and “real” refugees who meet the terms laid out by the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.

“If you want to solve the refugee problem you need to deal with the real cause of refugees which is African leaders—but you [foreign donors] are providing them with more money,’ Shikatende says.

When it comes to a timeline for completion of the two industrial parks, how refugees will be chosen for the earmarked jobs, the challenges that need to be overcome to make the project a success, both UNHCR and ARRA say it is too early to comment although meetings are ongoing to hash out the logistics.

“We are waiting for the plan,” says one refugee organisation worker.

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Dying to Get to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/dying-to-get-to-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dying-to-get-to-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/dying-to-get-to-europe/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 18:04:03 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147552 At least 3,740 refugees and migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 - why is the route so deadly? Credit: UNHCR

At least 3,740 refugees and migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 - why is the route so deadly? Credit: UNHCR

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 29 2016 (IPS)

They are not just data or numbers for statistical calculations. They are desperate human beings fleeing wars, violence, abuse, slavery and death. They hear and believe the bombastic speeches about democracy and human rights and watch the many images of welfare and good life in Europe.

They are so desperate that trusting the promises of human traffickers comes almost naturally to them. After all these human traffickers are the very people who lure them to the ‘promised land.’ They sell whatever they can of their modest belongings, including agricultural land, borrow money from their poor family members to deliver cash to the inhumane smugglers for their journey abroad.

But then many, too many of them die in their attempts. The death toll of those crossing the Mediterranean has now, once again, hit an all-time high.

With just two months to the end of 2016, and despite a substantial drop in the number of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, the number of people losing their lives has witnessed a three-fold overall increase this year and, in one particular route, by more than five-fold, the United Nations refugee agency has just reported.

“From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88,” William Spindler, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on 25 October informed.

“On the Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy the likelihood of dying is even higher, at one death for every 47 arrivals,” he added. The grim ratio for this route has worsened by more than 5.7-times. “This is the worst we have seen.”

According to the UN refugee agency, at least 3,740 lives are reported lost between January and October 2016 – just short of the 3,771 deaths reported for the whole period of 2015.

After a three-month odyssey to join her husband, including giving birth to twins in a Serbian hospital, Fatima Khalouf found sanctuary in a German village. Fatima Khalouf (right). Credit: UNHCR/Gordon Welters

After a three-month odyssey to join her husband, including giving birth to twins in a Serbian hospital, Fatima Khalouf found sanctuary in a German village. Fatima Khalouf (right). Credit: UNHCR/Gordon Welters

This high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.

“About half those who have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year have travelled from North Africa to Italy – a known more perilous route,” said Spindler explaining one of the causes behind the rise.

Other causes include people smugglers using lower-quality “vessels” – no more than flimsy inflatable rafts that often do not last the journey; and the changing tactics of smugglers, with mass embarkations of thousands of people at a time on these boats of death, Spindler said.

Smugglers – The Horror Tales

There are many horror stories behind the changing tactics of people smugglers. Around five years ago, it was reported that traffickers used to ‘buy’ scrapping ships in the so called “Death Coast” on Africa’s South-Eastern shore, fill them with refugees and migrants, hire industrial fishing vessels to drag them until North West Africa and then unclasp them as soon as they detect the presence of coastal patrols.

Add to this, last summer’s reports about purposely defective life vests, which the smugglers provided to refugees and migrants in order to intentionally let them sink as they approach European coasts, a tactic that would push humanitarian groups and coastal authorities to rush to rescue them.

Tragically, the number of those who lose their lives while trying to reach Europe is higher than those who managed to arrive in this continent.

In fact, less than 300,000 migrants and refugees have reached Europe between the start of this year and mid-September, with most of them entering through Greece and Italy, according to an update from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on 13 September.

Of the total of 294,450 migrants and refugees, 126,931 arrived via Italy and 165,015 via Greece – the former experienced a slight uptick compared to the time period of January to the end of September in 2015, and the latter experienced a fall of almost 50 per cent compared to same time period, IOM had last year reported.

“While total arrival numbers are down, fatalities among Mediterranean migrants and refugees now stand, through this past weekend, at 3,207 – exceeding by 456 the total recorded during the same period last year.”

IOM noted that, according to its Missing Migrants Project – which tracks deaths of migrants and those who have gone missing along migratory routes worldwide – Mediterranean fatalities for last year stood at 2,751 through 12 September 2015.

Ironically, the IOM, which assisted an estimated 20 million migrants in 2015, was founded in the wake of the World War II to resettle refugees from Europe.

The European Nightmare

But, what awaits them in Europe? At first, alleging humanitarian sentiments, the European Union (EU) auctioned them—after all they are a cheap labour or working force and they meticulously pay taxes.

Shortly after, due to electoral motivations, the EU decided to “sell” them back to Turkey, a country that the European club had systematically considered unsafe and inappropriate human rights wise, but that all of sudden decided that it was safe … for refugees and migrants.

Perhaps one of the most unerving analysis is what IPS founder Roberto Savio wrote already a year ago: Paris, the Refugees and Europe:

“In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same…

… And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas…

… But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan.”

That is just so true.

Otherwise, the UNHCR would not have so strongly stated, “Highlighting that the number of pledges to relocate asylum-seekers continues to be ‘woefully low’ and its implementation slow and challenging, the United Nations refugee agency called on European countries to do more to deliver significantly on the commitments they have made.”

The UNHCR on 13 September last year informed that both the EU and the UN member states agreed on a two-year plan to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Greece and Italy, to other European countries.

“However, until now only 4,776 asylum-seekers have been relocated from the two countries – less than three per cent of the original target.”

Meanwhile, migrants and refugees continue to dream of a life in Europe, while swelling the coffers of human traffickers, which are already full with an estimated 65 billion dollars a year. Also meanwhile, Europe continues to talk about human rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Save Thousands of Children’s Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/how-to-save-thousands-of-childrens-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-save-thousands-of-childrens-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/how-to-save-thousands-of-childrens-lives/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:41:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147492 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable, and humanitarian aid agencies need to be able to respond immediately to save their lives.

In order to help save thousands of children’s lives during catastrophic disasters, the IKEA Foundation has signed agreements with two of the world’s foremost humanitarian aid organisations.

For this purpose, the Foundation on 17 October signed framework agreements with Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) that will enable the organisations to access the funding they need right after a disaster strikes.

Protecting children in the deadliest disasters

As climate change wreaks bigger and more frequent disasters, Save the Children’s teams are working around the world to help children access their rights to protection, healthcare, education, and child-friendly spaces in which to play.

The IKEA Foundation’s new agreement will give Save the Children access to up to 2 million euro within 72 hours of a category-one disaster—an extraordinary emergency affecting more than one million children and causing widespread destruction.

Save the Children will use the funding to quickly and efficiently help children and their families survive the unthinkable and begin to recover in the months that follow.

“Save the Children is tremendously excited to deepen our relationship with the IKEA Foundation, and even more so, to further our mutual commitment to do whatever it takes to save children’s lives in emergencies around the world. Quite simply, rapid response save children’s lives,” said Daniele Timarco, Humanitarian Director Save the Children.

“This partnership, allowing for substantial and immediate funding of emergency response, allows us the flexibility to immediately begin our work on the ground, Timarco added.

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation


“I hear repeatedly from seasoned response workers around the world that this is the kind of partnership we need to take humanitarian response to the next level. On behalf of Save the Children, I want to thank the IKEA Foundation for partnering with us and driving innovation in the sector.”

Providing medical care during “unseen” disasters

Around the world, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gives medical care to thousands of families suffering from disasters that receive little or no international media attention and for which it is difficult to raise support.

Thanks to this new agreement with the IKEA Foundation, MSF will be able to access emergency grants of up to 3 million euro to help children and their families survive these disasters.

“Emergency humanitarian action often happens in places the world seems to have forgotten, in places that are hard to reach for journalists,” explains Bruno Jochum, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The IKEA Foundation grants will help our teams provide lifesaving medical care and, in so doing, show the families caught in these crises that we’re trying to support them in their time of greatest need.”

Save the Children is one of the IKEA Foundation’s longest-running partnerships, and the two organisations have teamed up to help children enjoy their rights in dozens of countries, including during disasters such as typhoons and flooding in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The IKEA Foundation and MSF have partnered since 2013 to bring lifesaving medical care to people suffering in conflicts and disasters, including those wounded in Syria. The IKEA Foundation gave its largest single emergency donation ever—5 million euro—to Médecins Sans Frontières to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing funding in crisis areas and tackling climate change are critical to achieving this goal. That’s why it’s crucial that we give organisations such as Save the Children the resources they need to save children’s lives and help families rebuild in the wake of catastrophes.

“Our agreement with MSF is a unique way of ensuring families trying to survive unseen emergencies can get the medical care they desperately need. We know there are huge gaps in humanitarian funding, and those gaps are more than simply academic; they cost people their lives,” he added.

“With our funding, we hope not only to help MSF save lives but also to create visibility for disasters that receive little or no international media attention and to mobilise other donors to support children who need it the most.”

Read more about the IKEA Foundation’s support for children in emergencies.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthewhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/learning-from-past-mistakes-rebuilding-haiti-after-hurricane-matthew/#comments Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147479 The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147434 A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.

 

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Negligent Central American Leaders Fuel Deepening Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2016 19:29:04 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147372 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/feed/ 0 The Elusive Woman Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-elusive-woman-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-elusive-woman-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-elusive-woman-secretary-general/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2016 06:37:32 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147358 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work. ]]>

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work.

By Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

United Nations’ apex forum, the General Assembly elected the next Secretary-General yesterday by acclamation rubber-stamping the recommendation of the Security Council (SC). I am appalled by the choice of 15 members of the Security Council of another man following eight others in 70 plus years of UN’s existence as if only men are destined to lead this global organization.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

The Council members were totally insensitive to a groundswell of support worldwide for a woman as the next Secretary-General. They advanced the legacy of ignoring the 50 per cent of humanity in their action. This is an absolute aberration of the system whereby the 15 members of the Council impose their choice prompted by P-5 pressure and manipulation upon the total membership of 193, not to speak of wide swath of civil society opinion and activism for a woman Secretary-General.

It is so very unfortunate that in the selection process politics has trumped women’s equality, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary.

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates would get the post Deputy Secretary-General (D-SG) as a part of the deal about the new SG. This is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past.

It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly, it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years.

I would also underscore that the new S-G should bring in a true and real 50-50 gender balance at the level of Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs). This is an action which should be clearly laid down in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

UN General Assembly’s 70th President Mogen Lykketoft’s praiseworthy initiative for exposure of the candidates to wider membership and civil society did not have any impact of the predominant political process in the Security Council. Doing well in a Q&A is not a shortcut to the world’s most demanding job.

I believe strongly that a most practical and feasible way to prevent such Security Council’s choice imposition– though the UN Charter envisages as such– the General Assembly should decide to also hold straw polls on all candidates the way Council does to send a signal about how the majority of UN membership is expressing their choice. This can be done informally like the SC straw polls but made public and transmitted to the Council.

This will at least tell the world how the UN membership as a whole is assessing the candidates and hopefully will have an impact on the Council’s choice. All this can be done without amending the Charter or disrespecting any of its provisions.

Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue. As in case of any new corporate CEO, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or reelected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?.

In that context, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments at ASG and USG levels should be more transparent and open. The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his (yes, still it is “his”) own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office. That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did. One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms.

Yes, opposition will be there, both from within his own Secretariat and from influential Member States, but the determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

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Antonio Guterres: New UN Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/antonio-guterres-new-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antonio-guterres-new-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/antonio-guterres-new-un-secretary-general/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:28:57 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147340 By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who takes office on January 1, arrives with strong credentials — both as a former Prime Minister of Portugal and an ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

As a senior UN official, he spearheaded an ambitious but politically intricate action plan to battle one of the world’s major humanitarian crises that threatened to unravel European unity as millions of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia landed on the shores of Europe last year.

Guterres was elected mostly on merit – with a rare unanimous decision by the five veto-wielding permanent members at a time when the Security Council is sharply divided over Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and North Korea. The consensus in the 15-member Council, and the approval of his nomination by the 193-member General Assembly, underlined a strong affirmation of his appointment.

When both the Security Council and the General Assembly gave their overwhelming support to Guterres, they side-stepped two alternative options: picking the first woman Secretary-General or the first Secretary-General from Eastern Europe.

The lobbying for a female UN chief was initiated by more than 750 civil society and human rights organizations, while the proposal for an East European as UN chief came mostly from member states.

While there was a strong case for a woman Secretary-General in a 71-year-old male-dominated world body, Eastern Europe had less of a legitimate claim. As a geographical entity, it existed only within the confines of the UN, not outside of it. After the end of the Cold War, most Eastern European states became an integral partner of the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and often both

So, in effect, Guterres overcame both campaigns, as he was anointed the fourth Western European to hold the position.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31 after a 10-year tenure, will leave behind two legacies: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But it will be left to Guterres to ensure their implementation.

A member of the Socialist Party in Portugal, Guterres spent over 20 years in government and public service before he was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), serving for a decade until the end of 2015.

His work with the UNHCR was nothing short of groundbreaking. As High Commissioner, he oversaw the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up the organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

Guterres has already pledged to serve the “victims of conflicts, of terrorism, human rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world”. Ban Ki Moon rightly complimented Guterres as a “superb choice” and said “his experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period”.

However, he acknowledged that the election was also a disappointment as his vision of a female successor did not become a reality. Ban Ki Moon, is not alone in his sentiments, as many consider the outcome of the election to be “bittersweet”. Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat and one of Guterres’ female rivals for the job, tweeted on 5 October, “Bitter:not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.

Guterres takes over the UN at a time when the world body has remained paralyzed over several unresolved political problems, including the five-year-old devastating civil war in Syria, hundreds of civilian killings in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the emergence of North Korea as the world’s newest nuclear power in defiance of Security Council resolutions.

The new Secretary-General will also be entrusted with the task of resolving several lingering problems, including ongoing reports of sexual abuse of women by some UN peacekeepers and compensation for Haitian victims of cholera inadvertently brought in by UN peacekeepers, and address new challenges, such as helping muster the trillions of dollars needed to implement the 17 SDGs and the Climate Change agreement as well as ensuring a 50:50 gender parity in senior and decision-making positions in the UN Secretariat.

One of his first appointments should be to name a woman as his Deputy, preferably from the developing world.
We wish him well in his endeavors.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147333 A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147293 An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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