Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141754 Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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New Plan Would Aggravate the Troubles of Chile’s Beleaguered Pensionershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:51:40 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141734 A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The already precarious situation of pensioners in Chile will get even worse if a controversial initiative is approved. Under the new plan, the elderly would mortgage their homes to increase their meagre pensions, most of which come from prívate pension funds, and which average 230 dollars a month.

“This plan is a ruse, a dirty trick,” Nuvia Zambrano, a pensioner, told IPS. “If we can hardly survive on our pensions, how could we afford the mortgage payments? Our homes would be left to the banks,” said the former high school biology teacher who retired 10 years ago.

The reverse mortgage plan, presented by opposition legislators and backed by governing coalition lawmakers, would create a contract between the homeowner and a government institution. Based on the value of the property, and the calculation of the owner’s life expectancy, the period for payment and monthly payments until the end of their life would be set.

The pensioners would continue to live in their homes until they died. After that, their heirs could buy back the property for the amount already paid or hand it over to finish paying off the mortgage.

But experts say the new plan would create “a new psychological burden for older adults,” who already live their last years in debt and with pensions that in many cases do not cover the cost of living.

Chile’s pension system, based on mandatory individual retirement accounts, was introduced in 1981 by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Under the system, workers deposit at least 10 percent of their wages into personal accounts managed by private pension funds (AFPs).

The capital is then invested in shares in large companies and banks in Chile or abroad, which generate returns.

According to the Fundación Sol, a labour think tank, the pension funds have earned more than 5.8 bilion dollars so far, from the lucrative business of mandatory individual accounts.“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway.” -- Nuvia Zambrano

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 pensioners in Chile receive less than 230 dollars a month, equivalent to 66 percent of the monthly mínimum wage of 373 dollars, according to the respected think tank.

Prior to the pension reform, Chile had a public pay-as-you-go system.

“Back then they said the new system was wonderful,” Marianela Zambrano, Nuvia’s sister, told IPS. “I was just coming back from exile in Denmark and didn’t have much idea of how it worked.

“Now I know it’s the theft of a century, a disgusting theft, an injustice,” she said angrily.

The 62-year-old English teacher who worked for over 30 years receives a pension today of just 334 dollars a month. Her rent payment alone eats up 186 dollars.

“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway,” she said, bitterly.

Today, only a handful of countries have pension systems similar to Chile’s: Dominican Republic, Israel, Nigeria, Maldives, Malawi, Kosovo and Australia – although Australia ensures a basic pension of 1,000 dollars a month for many of the country’s older adults.

Among Chile’s neighbours, Argentina switched back from a mixed system to a traditional pay-as-you-go scheme, in 2008.

Uruguay, meanwhile, has a mixed system consisting of a public pay-as-you-go regime combined with individual accounts. It was modified in 2005 though a labour reform, which increased wages and gave trade unions a stronger role.

In Chile, on the other hand, the system put in place by the dictatorship in 1981 has been operating for 35 years and the democratic governments that have ruled the country since 1990 have shown no intention of modifying it.

The centre-left governments, including the current administration headed by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, and the administration of her right-wing predecessor Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), only introduced measures to ensure pensions for those excluded by the AFPs.

“This system has been tremendously successful with regard to one objective: financing the economy, injecting fresh capital to capitalise companies or economic groups,” Fundación Sol economist Gonzalo Durán told IPS.

In this South American country of 17.5 million people, women retire at the age of 60 and men at 65. But in practice, both men and women tend to work until at least the age of 70.

The prívate pension funds determine life expectancy, which varies depending on gender and other factors, using actuarial life tables.

Life expectancy in Chile stands at 83 years for women and 76 for men, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But according to the AFPs, Chilean women have a life expectancy of 89 and men, 85.

Each pensioner’s projected lifespan, and the resulting number of monthly payments, are calculated according to the life table. Their heirs can later inherit a monthly pension, which the AFP determines based on what is left of the pensioner’s lifelong savings. That depends on factors such as the educational level of the sons and daughters.

According to the Superintendencia de Pensiones, the government agency that oversees the pension funds, in December 2014 nearly seven of every 10 Chileans between the ages of 55 and 60 had roughly 31,000 dollars in their individual accounts – an amount that does not ensure a pension of over 155 dollars a month.

“The pension system plays a major role in the concentration of income and the problem of inequality, which we have to hold a debate about,” said Durán.

He added that the system is a key component of Chile’s neoliberal model.

Durán said the private pension fund system is not meeting the goal of providing social security in Chile, where the estimated cost of a family’s basic needs is 264 dollars a month, and medications can cost three times what they cost in Argentina or Peru.

As a result, older adults are impoverished and have no choice but to continue working after retirement to compensate for their small pensions. They are also in debt.

The most important reform of Chile’s pension system was carried out in 2008, during President Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010). It benefited the poorest 60 percent of the elderly. Her administration introduced a 133-dollar a month public pension for people who never paid into a retirement scheme, such as street vendors, the self-employed, homemakers or small farmers. In addition, the lowest pensions were topped up.

This scenario “is suspicious,” said Durán, because while pensions are low, “the system brings big benefits to prívate companies” – unlike a pay-as-you-go scheme.

“There is a legitimate suspicion that they don’t want to change the system in order not to deprive the companies of the profits they are earning. If that turns out to be true, it’s very serious,” he said.

For now the government says it will not back the controversial bill. But the lawmakers who are behind it say they will continue to push for it to be passed. And it has support on both sides of the political spectrum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Younghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141710 A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Caribbean Seeks Funding for Renewable Energy Mixhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 10:31:18 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141677 St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A leading geothermal expert warns that the small island states in the Caribbean face “a ticking time bomb” due to the effects of global warming and suggests a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the only way to defuse it.

President of the Ocean Geothermal Energy Foundation Jim Shnell says to solve the problems of global warming and climate change, the world needs a new energy source to replace coal, oil and other carbon-based fuels.  OGEF’s mission is to fund the R&D needed to tap into the earth’s vast geothermal energy resources."You need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether." -- Jim Shnell

“With global warming comes the melting of the icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica and the projection is that at the rate we are going, they will both melt by the end of this century,” Shnell told IPS, adding “if that happens the water levels in the ocean will rise by approximately 200 feet and there are some islands that will disappear altogether.

“So you’ve got a ticking bomb there and we’ve got to defuse that bomb and if I were to rate the issues for the Caribbean countries, I would put a heavyweight on that one.”

It has taken just eight inches of water for Jamaica to be affected by rising sea levels, with one of a set of cays called Pedro Cays disappearing in recent years.

Scientists have warned that as the seas continue to swell, they will swallow entire island nations from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

In the Caribbean, scientists have also pointed to the likelihood of Barbuda disappearing in 40 years.

Shnell said countries could “essentially eliminate” the threat by turning to renewable energy, thereby decreasing the amount of fossil fuels or carbon-based fuels they burn.

“The primary driver of climate change is greenhouse gasses and one of the principal ones in terms of volume is carbon dioxide,” he said.

“For a long time a lot of electricity, 40 per cent of the electricity produced in many countries, would come from coal because it was a very inexpensive, plentiful form of carbon to burn.

“But now countries have seen that they need to move away from that and in fact the G7 just earlier this month got together and in their meeting, the leaders declared that they were going to be 100 percent renewable, that is completely stop burning carbon, coals and other forms of fossil fuels by the end of this century. The only problem is that for global warming purposes that’s probably too late,” Shnell added.

Shnell was among some of the world’s leading renewable energy experts who met here late last month to consider options for renewable energy development in the Caribbean.

The Martinique Conference on Island Energy Transitions was organised by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the French Government, which will host the United Nations International Climate Change Conference, COP 21, at the Le Bourget site in Paris from Nov. 30 Dec. 11 2015.

Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank Migara Jaywardena said the conference was useful and timely in bringing all the practitioners from different technical people, financial people and government together.

“There’s a lot of climate funds that are being deployed to support and promote clean energy…and we talked about the challenges that small islands, highly indebted countries have with mobilising some of this capital and making that connection to clean energy,” Jaywardena told IPS.

“They want to do it but there isn’t enough funds and remember there’s a lot of other competing development interests, not just energy but non-energy interests as well. Since this conference leads to the COP in Paris, I think being a part of that climate dialogue is important because it creates an opportunity to begin to access some of those funds.”

“As an example, for Dominica we have an allocation of 10 million dollars from the clean technology fund to support the geothermal and that’s a perfect example of where climate funds could be mobilised to support clean energy in the islands,” Jaywardena added.

Shnell said Caribbean economies are severely affected by the cost of fuel but that should be an incentive to redouble their efforts to get away from importing oil.

“The oil that you import and burn turns right around and contributes to global warming and the potential flooding of the islands, whereas you have some great potential resources there in terms of solar and wind and certainly geothermal,” he said.

“What we’re advocating is the mixture of those resources. We feel it would be a mistake to try to select one and make that your 100 percent source of power or energy but it’s the mix, because of different characteristics of each of them and different timing of availability and so forth, they work much better together.”

He noted that wind and solar are intermittent while utility companies have to provide power all the time.

“So you need something like geothermal or hydropower that works all the time and provides enough energy to keep the grid running even when there is no solar energy. So you need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether,” Shnell said.

A legislator in St. Kitts and Nevis said the twin island federation has gone past fossil fuel generation and is now adopting solar energy with one plant on St. Kitts generating just below 1 megawatt of electricity and another being developed which would produce 5 megawatts.

“In terms of solar we’ll be near production of 1.5 megawatts of renewable energy. As a government we are going full speed ahead in relation to ensuring that there’s renewable energy, of course, where the objective is to reduce electricity costs in St. Kitts and Nevis,” Energy Minister Ian Liburd told IPS.

In late 2013 legislators in Nevis selected Nevis Renewable Energy International (NREI) to develop a geothermal energy project, which they said would eventually eliminate the need for existing diesel-fired electrical generation by replacing it with renewable energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Young Hondurans Lead Unprecedented Anti-Corruption Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:02:43 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141669 The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A Honduran spring is happening, led by young people mobilising over the social networks, who are flooding the streets with weekly torch marches against corruption and impunity.

Since late May, the peaceful movement of young people who declare themselves “indignados” or outraged has broken down the media’s resistance to cover what is happening, and has brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country.

The torch marches are demanding the creation of an international commission to fight corruption and impunity, purge this Central American country’s institutions, and strengthen democracy.

The Oposición Indignada or Outraged Opposition citizen movement is largely made up of middle-class young people upset over the embezzlement of 200 to 300 million dollars in the country’s social security institute (IHSS).“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed. And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.” -- Gabriela Blen

According to the investigations, some of the money was used to finance the right-wing National Party (PN), which has governed the country since 2010. The scandal also involved the purchase of equipment at marked-up prices, and of expired medications.

The IHSS scandal is the biggest case of corruption in Honduras in half a century and has caused widespread indignation due to the consequences it has had for the health of Hondurans, who already suffer from the scarcity of medicines in the country’s network of public hospitals.

The fraud and graft in the institution that provides social security and healthcare to both public and prívate-sector employees has severely shaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose four-year term began in January 2014.

The president ordered the investigations. But he never imagined that the straw that would break the camel’s back would be the use of healthcare funds to finance the campaign that led to his election.

So far, 10 checks totalling 147,000 dollars that went towards his party’s campaign have surfaced. But that figure could increase, if the investigation digs deeply enough, experts say.

Hernández says the party will give the money back, and denies any involvement.

The dozen or so people prosecuted in connection with the scandal include former deputy ministers of health, a former IHSS director and an influential businessman. But the investigators say the list will grow and that powerful governing party figures will soon be implicated.

“What made us come together was the embezzlement, and knowing cases of friends whose relatives died in the social security institute because of the shortage of medications,” Gabriela Blen, a young activist who is one of the founders of Oposición Indignada, told IPS.

“On the social networks we started commenting that young people can’t be so indifferent, and the idea of the torch marches emerged,” she said.

In the last 13 months, the organisation – the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House – documented the murders of 1,076 people between the ages of 13 and 27.

Blen, 27, said that “in the beginning there were just a few of us, only 50 or 100 people who would come out to protest in front of the social security institute building. ‘There go those crazy kids’, they would say.

This country of 8.4 million people is one of the poorest in Latin America: 60 percent of households are poor and 40 percent extremely poor, according to official statistics.

Honduras is also one of the most corrupt countries in the region, along with Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua, according to Transparency international, the global anti-corruption watchdog.

And Honduras is not only plagued by corruption and impunity, but by violence. The homicide rate, 68 per 100,000 population in 2014 according to the Autonomous National University’s Observatory of Violence, makes it one of the most violent countries in the world.

Over 60 percent of the population is young, and according to Casa Alianza, a child advocacy organisation, young people in this country are stigmatised as a result of the violence, much of which is gang-related, while policies aimed at boosting social inclusion are lacking.

“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed,” she said. “And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.”

Blen says Honduras has woken up.

Every Friday in Tegucigalpa, and on Saturday or Sunday in another 50 cities, hundreds of thousands of “indignados” or angry, outraged protesters pour onto the streets to demand the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH), like the one operating in Guatemala since 2007.

The media, which initially kept silent about the movement, is now covering it, although still in a marginal fashion or to discredit it.

But society is sympathetic towards Oposición Indignada, which has also won recognition from the United Nations and the U.S. embassy.

Members of the movement have met with representatives of the U.N. and the U.S. embassy to ask for support for their demand for the installation of the CICIH.

Eugenio Sosa, an expert on social movements, told IPS that Oposición Indignada has the characteristics of a 21st century social movement.

“These are citizen movements without the classic rigid, hierarchical organisational structure, but with horizontal, fluid chains of command instead. That is why this has gone beyond the country’s political, trade union and social leaderships,” he said.

The sociologist said these movements “emerge around issues, and in this case it’s corruption, particularly in the social security institute. It’s a middle-class movement representing a new generation which is challenging the current political class.”

“Honduras is at an interesting historical juncture,” he said.

The government has ignored the protesters’ demands and has presented its own comprehensive proposal to fight impunity and corruption, without including the creation of the international commission the movement is calling for.

The demonstrators, meanwhile, reject the government’s plan.

Hernández called for a national dialogue but without including the political opposition or the “indignados” movement. Alghough the president said the dialogue would be “inclusive and without preconditions,” only traditional actors from some 30 sectors on good terms with the governing party have been invited so far.

The president also sought support from the U.N. and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to facilitate the dialogue.

The U.N. responded by sending a fact-finding mission which is to issue a report in a few weeks, and the OAS agreed to mediate talks but has not yet appointed facilitators.

During a visit to Honduras on Jul. 8, U.S. State Department special adviser Thomas Shannon called the torch marches a genuine expression of democracy and urged the government to “listen to the people.”

Shannon, who visited the country as part of a tour that also took him to El Salvador and Guatemala, said it would be smart for both the Honduran and the Salvadoran governments to consider setting up international commissions against impunity.

Former attorney general Edmundo Orellana told IPS that the situation is becoming complex because no Honduran president has faced such strong pressure from society.

But the movement – which has demanded that the president resign – says it will not engage in talks with the government until the CICIH is set up.

“And they’re right, because if people in the president’s inner circle are implicated in the social security corruption, what is needed is not talks but impeachment,” said Orellana, the country’s first attorney general, who enjoys great prestige.

Honduras, he said, has been caught up in a serious “crisis of legitimacy” since the 2009 coup that toppled then president Manuel Zelaya. And President Hernández “has lost credibility and popularity, and is really using the state for his own benefit.”

Orellana was referring to Hernández’s tight control over the three branches of the state and over the attorney general’s office itself.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Strengthen Tax Cooperation to End Hunger and Poverty Quicklyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 16:57:47 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141653 Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

By the end of this year, the 15-year time frame for the Millennium Development Goals will end, with good progress on several indicators, but limited achievements on others.

But public interest has already moved on to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

Despite uneven success with the MDGs, the level of ambition has risen, with SDG1 seeking to eradicate poverty and SDG2 to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, all by 2030. Last week, the Addis Ababa Action Accord began with: “Our goal is to end poverty and hunger.”

Almost four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas, which have less than half the world’s population. Hence, raising rural incomes sustainably is necessary to achieve the first two SDGs.

Ending poverty and hunger sustainably will need a combination of social protection and ‘pro-poor’ investments.

As food costs 50 to 70 percent of the World Bank’s poverty line income, poverty and hunger are intimately inter-related, although poverty and hunger measurement generates different numbers.

Agricultural investments generally have the biggest impact on reducing poverty, all the more so, if pro-poor, as well as designed and implemented well. Yet, while farmers themselves are the major source of agricultural investments, most formal financial institutions discriminate against them, especially smallholder family farmers, landless tenants and labourers, with little bankable collateral to offer.

Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030. Most developing countries have long suffered high unemployment and underemployment, with youth unemployment growing rapidly. With current economic prospects uncertain, especially after the recent slowing of the world economy, and widespread insistence on fiscal austerity and economic liberalisation, things are likely to get worse.

With sufficient political will and fiscal resources, poverty and hunger can be ended very quickly with adequate, well-designed and sufficient social protection, in fact, well before 2030. (This is why the G77 group of developing countries insisted last week on strengthening the U.N. committee on international tax cooperation — surely of interest to most developed countries as well.)

The world can currently produce enough food to feed everyone, but most of the hungry simply do not have the means to access enough food.

Social protection can not only ensure adequate food consumption, but also enable investments by those assisted to enhance their nutrition, health and other productive capacities, thus raising their incomes and, in turn, further increasing investments to expedite the transition from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, in which they have been trapped, to a more virtuous cycle free of want.

According to a recent World Bank report, a billion people in 146 low (LICs) and middle income countries (MICs) currently get some form of social protection. Yet, 870 million of the world’s extreme poor – most recently estimated at 836 million for 2015 – remained uncovered, mainly in the countryside. Not surprisingly, the greatest shortfalls are in the LICs.

In the LICs, 47 percent of the population are the extreme poor, with social protection covering less than a tenth of the population. In the lower MICs, social protection reaches about a quarter of the extreme poor, but half a billion remain uncovered. In the upper MICs, about 45 percent of the extreme poor is covered by social protection.

Last week, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and his counterparts from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presented their new estimates on investments for sustainable hunger and poverty eradication by 2030.

While some may quibble over details, they made the compelling case that ending hunger and poverty in a sustainable way is eminently viable, feasible and affordable, costing about 0.3 per cent of world economic output in 2014. Most MICs can afford the needed financing, but most LICs face serious fiscal constraints and will need budgetary support and technical assistance.

Enough social protection could end hunger and poverty very quickly, but it is not sustainable without higher earned incomes for those of the extreme poor able to work. An early big investment push will reduce longer term financing costs besides providing a much needed boost to aggregate demand in the face of the world economy’s ongoing economic doldrums.

The joint proposal by the Rome-based U.N. agencies not only shows that with the requisite political commitment, we can end hunger and poverty very quickly while creating the conditions for keeping both permanently in the catacombs of history.

Despite the poor compromise in Addis Ababa, quick real progress to enhance countries’ fiscal capacities through more effective international tax cooperation under U.N. auspices can be the third Financing for Development conference’s biggest contribution to this effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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New Convention Will Help Protect Latin America’s Elderlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:39:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141625 Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

“Our rights are only partially respected; in some places we are given special attention, but in others it is quite the opposite. There is a lack of education and respect for people my age,” Hilda Téllez, a 70-year-old Mexican woman, told IPS.

A few hours earlier, a taxi driver had refused to carry her wheelchair, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Villa Olímpica, where Téllez lives. She said she suffers double discrimination: as an elderly person and as someone with a disability, since she suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body.

“When I got sick, they violated my rights, because I collapsed in the office due to the level of stress there,” she said. “I didn’t go back to work after that. But the doctors ruled that it wasn’t a work-related health problem,” said the divorced mother of three and grandmother of eight, who worked for over 15 years in Mexico’s public prosecutor’s office, until retiring in 2006.

Because of that, she now receives a pension of only 225 dollars a month, even though her salary when she retired was over 1,250 dollars.

Discrimination, abandonment or neglect by families, and lack of care, work opportunities and full access to social services are all problems faced by people over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Ageing should be a concern for states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated.” -- Sandra Huenchúan

To address this situation, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons was approved Jun. 15 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) members. It needs to be ratified by two countries to go into effect, and has already been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Convention is the first regional instrument for promoting, protecting and recognising the human rights of the elderly.

It creates a comprehensive system of care for older adults, a Conference of the Parties, and a committee of experts who will issue recommendations to states.

It also creates a channel for any individual, group or non-governmental organisation to file complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against an OAS member country for violating the Convention.

There are currently 71 million people over 60 in Latin America. And by 2040, the elderly will outnumber children, according to an international forum held in this capital on the human rights of older adults by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE).

Sandra Huenchúan, a CELADE expert on ageing, said the main challenges involve improving social security coverage, access to healthcare, and inclusion in the labour market, and carrying out studies on the rights of the elderly.

“There are often problems applying the legislation – a lack of institutional or jurisdictional guarantees that would make enforcement possible,” Huenchúan said.

She added that “there is an enormous range of areas where older adults are unprotected, despite the existence of standardised legal mechanisms. Society isn’t fully aware that older adults have rights.”

The still hands of América Herrera, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The still hands of América Herrera of Costa Rica, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The countries in Latin America that already have specific laws and regulations for the protection of the rights of older adults are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

María Isolina Dabove, an expert from Argentina, said “The region is facing multigenerational ageing, a complex phenomenon that emerged with the demographic changes of the second half of the 20th century and is fuelled by the rise in life expectancy, which makes it possible for several generations to coexist.”

Dabove, with the Argentine government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS that the Convention is “the first explicit acknowledgement” by the region of the specific problems of older adults.

“This is an instrument that will guarantee the enforcement of the rights of all older adults,” she said.

Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the region climbed from 51 to 75 years, and it is expected to rise to 81 by the mid-21st century, according to CELADE, the population division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

One illustration is what is happening in Argentina, where 14 million of the country’s roughly 40 million inhabitants are over 60, according to the 2012 National Survey on the Quality of Life of Older Adults, while one out of five people in Argentina will be over 65 by 2050.

In Mexico, with a population f 120 million, seven million people are over 65 – a number that is expected to soar to more than 30 million by 2050.

And in Brazil, the most populous country in the region, with 200 million people, the number of people over 60 is expected to increase from 10 million today to more than 16 million by 2025 and to 29 million by 2050, according to official statistics.

“The real, concrete impact of the new Inter-American Convention is that each one of the states must incorporate it into their domestic laws. The Convention should have the legal hierarchy that would make it possible to build a free and equal society for all ages,” said Dabove.

Téllez, who receives medical care in the Social Security and Services Institute of Workers of the State, said she would like special clinics so the care would be “faster and more efficient.” She also suggested that the clinics could employ older adults.

“The government could make things accessible, approve stricter laws, provide driver education, improve the treatment we receive, and apply heavy fines, to educate people,” the pensioner said.

The region could benefit from the so-called “demographic bonus” – a broad segment of young people of an age to study and work and contribute to economic growth – but that advantage can vanish without investment in the human development of this part of the population.

In the November 2014 report “The New Demographic Era in Latin America and the Caribbean: Time for Equality According to the Population Clock”, CELADE said the demographic bonus could be secured with investment in education and health, particularly for children, adolescents, young people and women.

“Ageing should be a concern for the states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated,” Huenchúan said.

That concern, she added, “should not only translate into caring for older adults, but in making sure they have better conditions to exercise their rights.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Civil Society Sceptical Over “Action Agenda” to Finance Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civil-society-sceptical-over-action-agenda-to-finance-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-sceptical-over-action-agenda-to-finance-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civil-society-sceptical-over-action-agenda-to-finance-development/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 23:38:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141608 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) addresses a press conference before departing from Addis Ababa, after attending the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. At his side is Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) addresses a press conference before departing from Addis Ababa, after attending the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. At his side is Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS/ADDIS ABABA, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Despite high expectations, the third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) ended on a predictable note: the United Nations proclaimed it a roaring success while most civil society organisations (CSOs) expressed scepticism over the final outcome.

Hours after the conclusion of the conference in the Ethiopian capital, the United Nations trumpeted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) as a “ground-breaking agreement that provides a foundation for implementing the global sustainable development agenda that world leaders are expected to adopt this September.”“The outcome will not deliver the reforms we need in areas like tax, that most in civil society had hoped for and, that are needed to increase the resources available for development." -- Dr. Danny Sriskandarajah

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sounded optimistic when he said the agreement was a critical step forward in building a sustainable future for all since it provides a global framework for financing sustainable development.

He added, “The results here in Addis Ababa give us the foundation of a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development that will leave no one behind.”

But Dr. Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS, was blunt: “This week we saw a further sign that we are at the beginning of the end of the post-World War II (WWII) development world order.”

Rich countries seem unable or unwilling to increase official aid flows, which stand at a fraction of what they themselves promised years ago, he said.

“We are disappointed that the FfD process has not yielded new resources to fund the investments needed to end poverty or taken meaningful steps to address problems in the international financial system,” he said at the conclusion of the conference Wednesday.

He added: “The outcome will not deliver the reforms we need in areas like tax, that most in civil society had hoped for and, that are needed to increase the resources available for development.”

Asked about the failed proposal for the creation of a global tax body, ActionAid’s international tax power campaign manager, Martin Hojsik, told IPS: “The decision is an appalling failure and a great blow to the fight against poverty and injustice.”

He said it means that developing countries, which are losing billions of dollars a year to tax dodging, are not being given an equal say in fixing unjust global tax rules.

“This lost money could have gone to the provision of education, healthcare and other poverty-reducing public services. While the multinationals prosper, the poor and marginalised will suffer,” he said. “The fight for a fair global tax system should not and cannot falter.”

In a statement released here, Oxfam International said unresolved rigged tax rules and privatised development are the major drawbacks of the FfD outcome.

However, after such tense negotiations there can be no doubt that developing countries’ determination to call for true global tax reform and tax cooperation has been noted, and cannot go unheeded for long.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “Today, one in seven people live in poverty and Addis was a once in a decade chance to find the resources needed to end this scandal. But the Addis Action Agenda has allowed aid commitments to dry up, and has merely handed over development to the private sector without adequate safeguards.”

She said developing countries held firm in Addis on the need to set up an intergovernmental tax body that would give them an equal say in how the global rules on taxation are designed.

“Instead they are returning home with a weak compromise meaning rigged rules and tax avoidance will continue to rob the world’s poorest people.”

Byanyima said fair taxation is vital in the fight against poverty and inequality.

“Citizens must be able to depend on their own governments to deliver the services they need. But it is just not logical to ask developing countries to raise more of their own resources without also reforming the global tax system that prevents them doing this,” she added.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of the Jubilee USA Network, told IPS “while compromised language on a tax committee was reached, we have the first global agreement that notes the harm of illicit financial flows and calls to stop them by 2030.”

Right now the developing world is losing a trillion dollars a year to corruption and tax evasion, he said, pointing out, “those are resources we need to end poverty.”

In a joint statement released late Wednesday, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Africa Progress Panel (APP) and Jubilee USA applauded the global commitment to reduce the massive flow of illicit funds from developing country economies.

For the first time international consensus was reached on the importance of an issue that has been at the forefront of efforts by hundreds of research and development organisations for the last 10 years.

Specifically, the FfD3 Outcome Document requires member states to “redouble efforts to substantially reduce illicit financial flows (IFFs) by 2030, with a view to eventually eliminate them, including by combatting tax evasion and corruption through strengthened national regulation and increased international cooperation.”

Additionally, the final text calls on “appropriate international institutions and regional organizations to publish estimates of IFF volume and composition”

The statement said the ability to measure illicit flows was at the heart of significant disagreement during the FfD3 preparatory negotiations in New York earlier this year with the 132-member Group of 77 developing countries calling for country-level estimates of illicit flow volumes.

In its statement, the United Nations said the Addis Ababa Action Agenda contains more than 100 concrete measures.

It also addresses all sources of finance, and covers cooperation on a range of issues including technology, science, innovation, trade and capacity building.

The Action Agenda builds on the outcomes of two previous Financing for Development conferences, in Monterrey, Mexico, and in Doha, Qatar.

Wu Hongbo, the Secretary-General of the Conference, said, “This historic agreement marks a turning point in international cooperation that will result in the necessary investments for the new and transformative sustainable development agenda that will improve the lives of people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Fear Stalks Students in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:50:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141601 A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya D'Almeida
PESHAWAR, Pakistan/UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

It has been seven months since a group of gunmen raided the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, killing 145 people, including 132 students.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home. Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.” -- Shahana Khan, the mother of one of the victims of the Peshawar school shootings in 2014
For the most part, the tragedy has faded off international headlines, but for the families of the victims and survivors, the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.

Speaking to IPS in her home in Peshawar, KP’s capital city and the site of last year’s attack, Shahana Khan cannot stop weeping.

Her 15-year-old son Asfand, a tenth grader at the public school, was one of too many children killed by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Dec. 16, 2014.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home,” she manages to say through her sadness. “Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.”

The boy’s father, Ajun Khan, chimes in: “He kept our home happy. Without him, we will pass Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan] in tears.”

His 11-year-old sister and seven-year-old brother share similar sentiments. Like other kids who lived through the tragedy, they have aged beyond their years.

They recount stories of their brother’s jokes and antics, as though momentarily forgetting that he is no longer with them. But then the tears start rolling again.

“I will recite the Holy Quran on his grave, and pray for his blessings,” the little bow vows solemnly.

Neither the kids nor their parents mention the school where the shootings took place, although it re-opened just a month after the incident.

For months, many families were too afraid to return to the scene. Though the students have gradually begun trickling back into their classrooms, fear is everywhere.

This lingering trauma is just one more obstacle standing between the Pakistan government and its ambitious education goals for this South Asian country of 182 million people.

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schools under attack

Throughout the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s landmark poverty-reduction plan launched in 2000, Pakistan has lagged behind most member states.

In March the ministry of federal education and professional training published education statistics for 2013-2014, which revealed that the government was unlikely to meet the target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015, despite many pledges and promises on paper.

Pakistan’s education sector is comprised of over 260,000 schools, both public and private, where 1.5 million teachers attend to an estimated 42.9 million students.

But according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published together with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are also 6.7 million out-of-school children in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

And while 21.4 million primary-school-aged children are currently enrolled in public and private institutions, research suggests that only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, and a further 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

Experts say that the dismal state of education in the restive northern provinces is largely to blame for these setbacks.

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Umar Farooq, an education official for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IPS that about 200,000 boys and girls in his region are out of school, largely due to the Taliban’s systematic attack on modern, secular education.

In the past 12 years, the Taliban have destroyed 850 schools, including 500 schools dedicated exclusively to girls, he said.

“FATA has the lowest primary school enrollment rate in the whole country – only 35 percent,” he added.

Prior to the December 2014 public school shooting, a report published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack listed Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a student or teacher, on par with states like Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Between the review period starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, armed groups in Pakistan attacked some 838 schools, mostly by blowing up buildings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 30 students and 20 teachers were killed in those attacks, while 97 students and eight teachers were injured and 138 students and staff kidnapped.

Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education, told IPS that school enrollment and dropout rates have fluctuated according to ebbs and flows in the insurgency.

The period 2007-2013, for instance, when the Taliban was stepping up its activities in the region, saw the dropout rate touching 73 percent.

Citing government records, Khan said that some 550,000 kids in FATA have sat idle over the last decade. The numbers are no better in other provinces in the north.

Back in the summer of 2014, when a government military operation aimed at destroying armed groups drove nearly half a million people from their homes in the North Waziristan Agency, scores of children found their education interrupted as they languished in refugee camps in the city of Bannu, part of the KP province.

A rapid assessment report carried out by the United Nations in July 2014 revealed that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys from North Waziristan were not receiving any kind of schooling in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that an already weak primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent in KP (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) would worsen as a result of the massive displacement, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs were occupying school buildings.

Director of education for KP, Ghulam Sarwar, told IPS the Taliban had destroyed 467 schools in the province in the last decade, and reduced the schooling system to dust in the Swat District where the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai shocked the entire world.

Already traumatized from years of attacks on education, the lingering ghosts of the Dec. 16 tragedy have only added to the burden of students and parents alike.

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Overcoming trauma

Khadim Hussain, head of the Peshawar-based Bacha Khan Education Trust, told IPS that the Taliban “thrive on illiteracy”, preying on ignorant sectors of the population to “toe their line”.

For this very reason, he stressed, education in Pakistan is more important now than ever before, as the most sustainable weapon with which to fight militancy.

In October 2014, the Pakistan office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that school supplies worth 14.4 million dollars, donated by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), had been handed over to KP’s education department.

The funds were aimed at improving facilities in over 1,000 schools across KP and FATA, serving 128,000 students.

It was a promising moment – shadowed barely two months later by the daylong siege and massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

With the bloodshed still fresh in everyone’s minds, Hussain’s suggestions are easier said than done.

Fourteen-year-old Jihad Ahmed, who survived the attack, is still afraid to go back to school. A sixth grader named Raees Shah, who saw his best friends die in front of him, has similarly had a hard time concentrating on his studies.

While some want desperately to forgot and move on, others – like ninth-grader Amir Mian – keep the memories of that day burning bright. When the attack began, Mian’s older brother had managed to escape the school premises unscathed, but came back to fetch the younger boy. When he did, he took a bullet and died shortly after.

“We will never forgive his killer,” the teenager told IPS. “We hope that God Almighty will punish his killers on the Day of Judgment.”

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In a bid to restore the public’s confidence in the education system, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February signed onto the 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative launched by A World At School, a global campaign working to get all school-aged kids into a classroom.

The 15 ‘best practices’ outlined in the agreement include community-based interventions such as involving religious leaders in the promotion of education as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, and improving infrastructure and safety mechanisms like constructing and reinforcing boundary walls.

Currently, only 61 percent of government schools and 27 percent of primary schools in rural areas have boundary walls, while scores of others lack protective razor wire atop their fortifications.

The programme’s donors and supporters hope it serves as a first step towards healing, and, ideally, to a more educated and resilient Pakistan.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Has Beaten Down, but not Beaten, HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 22:57:26 +0000 Alvaro Queiruga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141588 A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

By Álvaro Queiruga
MONTEVIDEO , Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America have partially met the Millennium Development Goal referring to the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the UNAIDS report on the global epidemic released Tuesday.

“The world has achieved the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6. The epidemic has been halted and reversed,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface to the report “How AIDS changed everything —“MDG6: 15 years, 15 lessons of hope from the AIDS response”.

Among the advances mentioned by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) report was the fact that 47 percent of people over 15 and 54 percent of children under 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2014 – one of the highest levels of coverage in the world.

The global average is 41 percent for adults and 32 percent for children.“In 2000, AIDS was a death sentence. People who became infected with HIV had just a few years to live….Today, the life expectancy of a person living with HIV who is receiving treatment is the same as that of a person who is not infected with HIV. That is success.” -- UNAIDS report

In some Latin American countries coverage is higher, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, the five countries that account for over 75 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the region. But in others it is much lower, like Bolivia, where antiretroviral coverage stands at less than 25 percent.

As an example to be followed, the report cites a major regional accomplishment: on Jun. 30 Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are set to become the next countries in the region to receive validation, possibly before June 2016, the regional director of UNAIDS for Latin America, César Núñez, said in an interview with IPS from Panama City.

The three pillars of the struggle

The experts, activists and HIV-positive persons consulted by IPS agreed that any effective struggle against the epidemic must be based on three pillars: prevention through early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS, universal access to antiretroviral therapy, and the reduction of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, which limits access to detection and treatment.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 70 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in Latin America have been diagnosed and 47 percent of the patients have begun antiretroviral therapy. Of those in treatment, the virus has been suppressed among 66 percent – in other words, 28 percent of all HIV-positive people in the region.

HIV prevalence in the region stands at 0.4 percent of the population – compared to 0.8 percent globally. But it rises to 25 or 30 percent among trans women involved in sex work, over 10 percent among gays and other men who have sex with men, and six percent among female sex workers.

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear does.” Credit: Chilean government

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear of the test does.” Credit: Chilean government

“HIV is concentrated in sexual diversity communities…who even find it very hard just to have an AIDS test in a health centre when, in the best of cases, they face stigma or discrimination on the streets or in the health centre itself, and in the worst of cases, they face the threat of physical violence,” Núñez said.

Between January 2013 and March 2014 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights received 770 reports of violence (594 murders and 176 serious assaults) motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or identity or gender expression.

UNAIDS figures

In Latin America the epidemic is concentrated in certain population groups, as well as in cities and ports, and along trade routes.

AIDS-related deaths in the region dropped 29 percent between 2005 and 2014, when the death toll was 41,000.

In 2014 there were 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, including 33,000 children. Of that total, 65 percent, or 1.1 million people, were men. The main route of transmission is sexual contact.

Over 75 percent of the 87,000 new HIV infections in the region in 2014 occurred, in descending order, in Brazil (which accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total), Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Fewer than 2000 children acquired HIV in 2014 in Latin America. High coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission has helped drive reductions in new infections among children, with 79 percent of the region’s 20,000 pregnant women living with HIV receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2014.

The Court recommended that states document such cases in order to develop policies for protecting the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) population.

“Laws on gender identity, gay marriage, anti-discrimination…are clear examples of legislation that…contribute to reducing discrimination and make it possible for the most affected populations to have access to health systems,” Carlos Falistocco, president of the Horizontal Technical Cooperation Group in Latin America and the Caribbean, which brings together the heads of AIDS programmes in the region, told IPS.

Núñez acknowledged that the region “managed to curb the spread of HIV, but we fell short of reversing the epidemic,” one of the targets of the sixth MDG, which like the other seven are to be met this year, when they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is still a long way to go, as reflected by the number of new HIV infections. Although they were reduced 13 percent from 2000 to 2014, in the last five years there has been little change in the annual number of new cases in the region.

Núñez said “there has been a kind of relaxation in the response. In some cases I think there’s a perception that this isn’t a problem anymore in Latin America, which has not enabled us to channel additional resources or put a higher priority on diagnosing and treating HIV.”

María José Fraga, a representative of the Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Uruguay, concurs.

“Because HIV has become a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension, social concern has died down,” she told IPS. “Today the epidemic is practically not discussed, because it’s not present. And for that reason we keep running into late diagnoses. There is no individual awareness of taking the test, or going to the doctor and asking for it.”

Fraga, 44, has been living with HIV for 24 years. When she was diagnosed in 1990, “there was practically no treatment,” she recalled.

“But that changed astoundingly fast, because by 1995 or 1996 there was already a wide variety of drugs…Back then they waited longer to start treatment. And the guidelines for treatment have gradually changed as more is understood about the disease and how it evolves in people,” she said.

Juan José Meré, a U.N. population fund (UNFPA) HIV/AIDS adviser, told IPS that in the case of Uruguay, “in nearly 40 percent of cases, full-blown AIDS is present by the time they are diagnosed. This can obviously be reverted, and in general it is, but at a high cost to their health.”

According to UNAIDS, in at least half of the countries in the region, 38 percent of people living with HIV had, when they were first tested, full-blown AIDS, which is defined by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic mm of blood. (CD4 cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell; they are an important part of the immune system.)

WHO and UNAIDS recommend that antiretroviral treatment start when a person’s CD4 cell count falls to 500, when they are still asymptomatic.

“Some countries, like Brazil and Argentina, offer treatment to any diagnosed patient, regardless of the CD4 level,” said Falistocco.

What direction should Latin America take in the future?

“We must base whatever we do on that great message from Secretary General Ban…we can’t leave anyone behind. In the region we can make great progress, especially if we guarantee access to services for the sexual diversity community across the entire continent,” said Núñez.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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New Census Paints Grim Picture of Inequality in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 19:55:45 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141579 An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being Asia’s third-largest economy, positioning itself as a major geopolitical player under a new nationalist government, India’s first ever Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) paints a grim picture of poverty and deprivation despite billions of dollars being funneled into state-sponsored welfare schemes.

The survey, carried out in 640 districts under the aegis of the Rural Development Ministry, provides comprehensive data on a raft of socio-economic indicators like occupation, education, religion, caste/tribe status, employment, income, assets, housing and land owned in individual as well as household categories.

"This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long." -- Dalit activist Paul Divakar
Of the 179 million households covered, nearly half are rural.

Of these rural households, over 21.53 percent belong to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST), the traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests.

More than 60 percent of the surveyed rural households qualified as “deprived” on 14 parameters. In over 51.8 percent of rural families, the main income earners barely manage to keep their kitchen fires burning by working as manual or casual labourers making less than 80 dollars per month (four dollars a day).

Further, just 20 percent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 percent own something as basic as a refrigerator.

The census also gives a glimpse of rural India weighed down by landlessness and a lack of non-farm jobs.

Across the country, 56 percent of households don’t own any land. Few households have a regular job and an insignificant number are taxpayers. Only 7.3 percent of households who fall into the scheduled castes category, and only 9.7 percent of all rural households in total, have a family member with a salaried job.

About 30 percent of those surveyed list themselves as cultivators, and manual casual labour is the primary source of income for 51.14 percent of households. Just about 14 percent have non-farm jobs, with the government, public or private sector.

The statistics are even bleaker for scheduled castes and tribal households: despite decades of affirmative action, only 3.96 percent of rural SC households and 4.38 percent of ST households are employed in the government sector.

This plummets to 2.42 percent for scheduled castes and 1.48 per cent for tribal communities in the private sector. Fewer than five percent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five percent mark.

“The census is an eye-opener. It clearly demonstrates that the benefits of high economic growth have not percolated down to large sections of the population despite billions being funneled into schemes for poverty-alleviation, ‘education for all’ and job-generation,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research

What is most disconcerting, according to Kumari, is that the census figures not only highlight rampant poverty but also generational poverty.

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policy makers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered,” she added.

Activists point out that despite state-mentored flagship schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the education for all movement aimed at achieving universal elementary education, 23.52 percent rural families have no literate adult above 25 years.

Fewer than 10 percent in India advance beyond the higher secondary level in school and just 3.41 percent of rural households have a family member who is at least a graduate.

A state-by-state breakdown of the latest census shows that nearly every second rural resident (47.5 percent of the rural population) in the northwest state of Rajasthan – the largest in the country by land area – is illiterate.

Meanwhile, states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh account for over 180 million of the over 300 million illiterate people in rural India.

Similarly, housing for all remains a chimera despite the existence of Indira Awaas Yojana, one of the biggest and most comprehensive rural housing programmes ever taken up in the country, which has been in operation since 1985.

The scheme aims to provide subsidies and cash-assistance to the poor to construct their own houses. Yet three out of 10 families, according to the SECC, live in one-room houses, while 22 million households (roughly 100 million persons or four times the population of Australia) live in homes constructed from grass, bamboo, plastic or polythene, with nothing but thatched or tin roofs standing between them and the elements.

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The eastern and central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have the poorest indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but even in more developed southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, family incomes are low and dependence on casual manual labour is high.

The countryside remains unable to find jobs that can pull families out of poverty while agriculture remains at subsistence levels, with low mechanisation, limited irrigation facilities and little access to credit.

The alarming and all-pervasive poverty, say activists, should alert policy makers to framing more inclusive policies effectively implemented on ground zero.

“This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long,” Dalit activist Paul Divakar told IPS.

“The SECC demonstrates that economic development of this demographic is not the government’s priority. These sections continue to lag behind on most human development indices because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development related to their social identity.

“A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Economists opine that for a country like India, which holds the paradoxical distinction of being a rising economy as well as hosting the largest number of the world’s poor, policies need to be especially nuanced for growth to be equitable.

“Of India’s 1.2-billion-strong population, a whopping 60 percent are of working age,” according to Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. “Yet only a small percentage has been absorbed into the formal workforce. Rural poverty is an outcome of low productivity, which leads to low incomes.

“We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliverieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141566 This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Female Commandos Ready to Take on the Talibanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141564 One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

For years, Robina Shah has dreamed of joining the police force.

Ever since her father, a police constable, was killed in a 2013 Taliban suicide attack in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she has longed to carry on his legacy.

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us. We are fearless.” -- 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of an elite female military academy in northern Pakistan
Such a dream was not easily realised here in the heart of tribal Pakistan, where life for many residents has been suspended between militants and the military since 2001, when extremists fleeing the U.S. invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border and establishing a home base in this mountainous province.

Last year, however, Shah was offered the chance to make her wish a reality when the local government launched a five-month training programme for a small squad of women commandos.

The decision to draft women into KP’s beleaguered armed forces came on the heels of last December’s terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 145 people dead, including 132 students between eight and 18 years of age.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killing spree, claiming it as an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched against militants in North Waziristan in the summer of 2014.

For over a decade the armed forces have very nearly exhausted their options in their dogged attempts to ride the northern provinces of extremist groups. Everything from air raids to ground operations have been tried and failed, with heavy losses on both sides.

“In the last nine years alone,” KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani told IPS, “we have lost over 5,000 policemen [in battles] with the outlawed TTP.”

Shaken by the school massacre last year, the province has stepped up its game against the militants. “We have raised the number of personnel from 70,000 to 90,000, and also become the first province in the country to have female commandos,” he added.

Bringing women into a profession dominated by men is a bold move, not least because militants in the area have made it very clear that a woman’s place is in the home.

But for the local force, it is the next logical step in the fight against extremism: it sends a clear message that women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts, and enables the police to navigate ‘delicate’ situations in counterterrorism field operations, such as inspecting women in potential terrorist compounds, or easily searching the homes of suspected terrorists where female relatives might balk at the arrival of male officers.

Following an intensive training session at an academy in KP’s remote Nowshera District that ended on Jun. 16, the 35 female commandos now stand ready to head out onto the frontlines.

Five grueling months of rising at five am and training until nearly midnight has turned this elite squad into a force to be reckoned with, experts say. Decked out in conservative dress, even in scorching weather, the women learned to handle anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers.

But even more than their training, their grit springs from years of living under the shadow of militancy in a country that has witnessed some 50,000 terrorist-related deaths in the last decade alone.

Women have often borne the brunt of the conflict, including enduring the Taliban’s systematic attacks on girls’ education and a deadly campaign against women health workers. Furthermore, of the many thousands of people displaced by both government and militant campaigns, women refugees are among the worst impacted by a lack of food, health and sanitary facilities.

“It is a matter of pride to defend our people against aggression,” 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of the academy, told IPS. “Our people need us to help them stay safe from violence.”

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us,” she said in a determined voice. “We are fearless.”

Though small in scope, the pilot scheme has inspired officials both in and outside the province to expand its reach.

According to Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain, the government should consider preparing a “pool of women commandos for the whole country.”

“It’s high time the government gave women more facilities and introduced benefits to draw women to the police force,” he told IPS.

Indeed, education and employment opportunities for women in the province, home to 22 million people, are extremely limited. Women comprise just 40,000 out of 740,000 employees in the health sector, and female doctors number just 600, compared to 6,000 men.

Pakistan’s latest Economic Survey revealed that women are highly overrepresented in the informal sector, performing the bulk of the country’s unpaid domestic labour and engaging in a range of other menial low-paid jobs such as cooking and cleaning.

Meanwhile, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts stands at less than two percent. Experts say these dismal numbers are the combined result of social stigma, religious conservatism and strict familial obligations that keep women bound to their home and out of the job market.

Even those who actively seek work are often disappointed – between 2010 and 2011, for instance, an estimated 200,000 women in KP were unemployed despite expressing a wish to secure a job.

Against this backdrop, the entry of women into the upper echelons of the armed forces represents a monumental step forward for gender equality, and could even spill over into other spheres of life.

Noor Wazir, who ran the military training programme, told IPS that “graduates will be imparting their training to women in other districts and we hope to have hundreds of female commandos in a few years.”

He added that women would not only be stationed on military front-lines, but could easily be deployed at polling stations during elections, in hospitals for additional security or in market places that have long been targets of terrorist attacks, and where women are often loathe to go without a male escort.

Whichever direction the government chooses to take this successful programme, the women involved tell IPS it has been a life-changing experience.

Prior to their graduation in June they had heard whispered doubts as to their ability to complete the taxing course, or withstand the demands of a military lifestyle.

Now, even the skeptical fathers of these young women have come around to the idea that female commandos can handle the task every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Speaking to IPS in an exclusive phone interview, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, “Hats off to the courageous KP policewomen. We salute and praise them. It is highly encouraging that women are ready to cope with the challenges posed by terrorism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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