Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:43:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Local Solutions to Rebuild Oldest Cuban City in Hurricane Matthew’s Wakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/local-solutions-to-rebuild-oldest-cuban-city-in-hurricane-matthews-wake/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:43:47 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149577 The veranda of a house which has been used to provide shelter for four families, including the family of retiree Dania de la Cruz. In the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, 167 people are still living in shelters after Hurricane Matthew destroyed their homes in October 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The veranda of a house which has been used to provide shelter for four families, including the family of retiree Dania de la Cruz. In the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, 167 people are still living in shelters after Hurricane Matthew destroyed their homes in October 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Clearings with fallen trees in the surrounding forests, houses still covered with tarpaulins and workers repairing the damage on the steep La Farola highway are lingering evidence of the impact of Hurricane Matthew four months ago, in the first city built by the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba.

Baracoa, a 505-year-old world heritage city in eastern Cuba, located in a vulnerable area between the coast, mountains and the rivers that run across it, is showing signs of fast recovery of its infrastructure, thanks in part to the application of its own formulas to overcome the effects of the Oct. 4-5, 2016 natural disaster.

“The ways sought to deal with the situation have been different, innovative. Necessity led us to involve the local population in addressing a phenomenon which affected more than 90 per cent of the homes,” said Esmeralda Cuza, head of the office in charge of the recovery effort in the people’s council of Majubabo, an outlying neighborhood along the coast.

Standing next to a mural announcing the delivery of bottles of water donated to the families affected by the hurricane, the 64-year-old public official, with experience in dealing with disasters since 1982, told IPS that “more local solutions were sought” before, during and after Hurricane Matthew hit the province of Guantánamo.

Internationally renowned for its effectiveness in protecting human lives during climate disasters, Cuba’s disaster management model is also undergoing changes within the current reforms carried out by the government of Raúl Castro, which includes local responses during the evacuation of local residents and the rebuilding process.

“We had some experience in this, but never with the magnitude and organisational level of this one,” said Cuza, referring to what the strongest hurricane in the history of Guantánamo meant for this city.

Workers unload materials for the reconstruction of a building damaged by Hurricane Matthew, on the seaside promenade of the historic city of Baracoa, in the eastern province of Guantánamo,  Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Workers unload materials for the reconstruction of a building damaged by Hurricane Matthew, on the seaside promenade of the historic city of Baracoa, in the eastern province of Guantánamo, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a city where most houses have lightweight roofs, the hurricane wreaked havoc in 24,104 of the 27,000 houses in the municipality of Baracoa, population of 81,700.

The local government reports that 3,529 homes were totally destroyed, 3,764 were partially destroyed, 10,126 lost their roofs, and 6,685 suffered partial damage to the roofs.

This figure does not include multi-family buildings that were also damaged. One of these, located on the seafront, is waiting to be demolished. In addition, 525 government buildings were affected, as well as the power and communication networks, water pies, roads and bridges.

Authorities say 85 per cent of the city has been restored, including 17, 391 houses that have been repaired.

“At least here all the houses have roofs,” said Cuza, talking about the restoration of the 1,153 damaged houses in Majubabo. In the rest of Baracoa, 90 per cent of the damaged roofs were fixed, and you can still see some houses with no roofs or covered with tarpaulins on a drive through the city.

Like everyone else, the office headed by Cuza is waiting for more materials to finish restoring the damaged interior of the houses.

In the case of homes that were completely destroyed, authorities provided the so-called “temporary housing facility“, which consists of basic construction materials. With this support and salvaged materials, 3,466 families rebuilt part of their homes to be able to leave the shelters and shared houses where they were initially placed.

The remains of boats and bushes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew scattered on a beach in Baracoa bear witness to the violence of the biggest climate disaster ever to hit the province of Guantánamo, in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The remains of boats and bushes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew scattered on a beach in Baracoa bear witness to the violence of the biggest climate disaster ever to hit the province of Guantánamo, in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

This set of measures seems to be the reason for the rapid improvement in the city´s landscape, through which foreign tourists stroll. With painted facades and big signboards, the 283 rental houses and state-run tourist facilities have been operating since early November, when high season started.

International aid

Contributions from the rest of the Cuban provinces, Cubans abroad and international cooperation have been arriving since October for the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew in the east of the country.

For example, the United Nations is carrying out a plan that aims to mobilise 26.5 million dollars to address the urgent needs of 637,608 people in Guantánamo and the neighbouring province of Holguín. This UN programme has received contributions from the governments of Canada, Switzerland, Italy and South Korea.

The Cuban government has also received assistance from Japan, Pakistan and Venezuela, as well as from companies in China and the United States and from international cooperation organisations, such as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Some parts of the seafront promenade are still impassable while workers fix the two-kilometre wall, which barely defended the city from the waves. Because of their vulnerability to the sea, 21 coastal communities are to be relocated before 2030, including Baracoa.

“The construction materials programme was launched to respond to the demand,“ said Rodolfo Frómeta, who is in charge of the state-run company that groups 12 small factories of natural rock materials and blocks, which plans to produce earthquake-resistant concrete slabs for roofs this month.

Baracoa has the largest number of these factories, which also operate in the affected neighbouring municipalities of Imías and Maisí. Up to February, the 22 factories in the area had produced 227,500 blocks, using artisanal moulds and rocks collected from the surrounding land and surface quarries.

“We only import the cement and steel,” said Frómeta, referring to the factories, of which three are state-run and the rest are private. “But all of them receive government support, like these mills that grind stones,“ he told IPS in Áridos Viera, a company in Mabujabo.

A psychologist by profession, Amaury Viera founded in 2015 this private enterprise, with the aim of turning it into a cooperative. Eight workers obtain sand, granite, gravel and stone powder. “Our main activity now is making blocks, some 800 a day, although we want to increase that to 1,200,“ said Viera.

With his bag full of tools, the young bricklayer and carpenter Diolnis Silot is heading home for lunch. “I have worked in the construction of 35 houses since Matthew, two were fully rebuilt and the rest involved replacing lightweight roofs. Most of them received state subsidies,” he told IPS.

Rodolfo Frómeta, in charge of the local company that groups 12 small local factories of natural rocky materials and blocks, next to a stone mill, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Rodolfo Frómeta, in charge of the local company that groups 12 small local factories of natural rocky materials and blocks, next to a stone mill, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A few metres away, the owner of a private cafeteria, Yudelmis Navarro, is installing a new window and making other improvements to his house. “The hurricane carried away the roof and some things from indoors. The government replaced the roof for free and now I am doing the smaller-scale repairs at my own expense,“ he said.

“People who expect everything for free will not solve very much,“ Navarro said.

On crutches, retiree Dania de la Cruz, one of the 167 people still living in shelters in the municipality, watches people going home for lunch, from the doorway of the large house where she lives with her daughter and three other families. “I used to live with my daughter along the Duaba river, on a farm, where I lost almost everything. I won’t go back there. We don’t know when or where we will have our new house,” she said.

“The longest-lasting damages were in agriculture and housing,” said Luis Sánchez, the mayor of Baracoa. He stressed that the recovery strategy included modernising the new infrastructure and making it more resistant, for example in communications.

So far, he said, 3,900 low-interest bank loans were approved for people to rebuild their homes, in addition to 700 subsidies, and more than 10,000 allowances for low-income families. Some families paid for the rebuilding out of their own pocket.

“And we have gained experience in evacuation,“ said Sánchez, who mentioned the use of traditional shelters in caves and rural buildings known as “varas en tierra” made of wood and thatched roofs that reach all the way to the ground.

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Climate Breaks All Records: Hottest Year, Lowest Ice, Highest Sea Levelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/climate-breaks-all-records-hottest-year-lowest-ice-highest-sea-level/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-breaks-all-records-hottest-year-lowest-ice-highest-sea-level http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/climate-breaks-all-records-hottest-year-lowest-ice-highest-sea-level/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:30:13 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149563 Extreme and unusual trends continue in 2017. Credit: WMO

Extreme and unusual trends continue in 2017. Credit: WMO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Climate has, once more, broken all records, with the year 2016 making history-highest-ever global temperature, exceptionally low sea ice, unabated sea level rise and ocean heat. And what is even worse– extreme and unusual trends continue in 2017.

In its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate, issued ahead of World Meteorological Day on 23 March, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial periood, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015.

“This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas. “Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”

With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident, said Taalas.

“The increased power of computing tools and the availability of long term climate data have made it possible today, through attribution studies, to demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high impact extreme events in particular heat-waves.”

Each of the 16 years since 2001 has been at least 0.4 °C above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period, used by WMO as a reference for climate change monitoring. Global temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C per decade, according to the WMO’s report.

The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event boosted warming in 2016, on top of long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures in strong El Niño years, such as 1973, 1983 and 1998, are typically 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C warmer than background levels, and 2016’s temperatures are consistent with that pattern.

Global sea levels rose very strongly during the El Niño event, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs, informs WMO, adding that global sea ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average in November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

“The very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and mortality was reported in many tropical waters, with important impacts on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.”

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per millions in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO globbal figures are available – and will not fall below that level for many generattions to come because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Noteworthy extreme events in 2016 included severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America, according to the report.

Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963, and inflicted significant economic losses in the United States of America, while heavy rains and floods affected eastern and southern Asia.

WMO has issued annual climate reports for more than 20 years and submits them to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The annual statements complement the assessments reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces every six to seven years.

It is presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in New York on 23 March.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on 4 November 2016 represents a historic landmark. It is vital that its implementation becomes a reality and that the Agreement guides the global community in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, fostering climate resilience and mainstreaming climate adaptation into national development policies,” said Taalas.

“Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change.”

Extremes Continue in 2017

Newly released studies, which are not included in WMO’s report, indicate that ocean heat content may have increased even more than previously reported. Provisional data also indicates that there has been no easing in the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson.

At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air.

“This meant that at the height of the Arctic winter and the sea ice refreezing period, there were days which were actually close to melting point. Antarctic sea ice has also been at a record low, in contrast to the trend in recent years.”

According to WMO, scientific research indicates that changes in the Arctic and melting sea ice is leading to a shift in wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns. This is affecting weather in other parts of the world because of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air whhich helps regulate temperatures.

Thus, some areas, including Canada and much of the USA, were unusually balmy, whilst others, including parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, were unusually cold in early 2017.

In the US alone, 11,743 warm temperature records were broken or tied in February, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Sanitation ‘Revolution': A New Pay-Monthly Poop Removal Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:50:44 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149561 By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Developing countries struggling to cope with huge volumes of human waste may finally get some relief, and a new business opportunity.

Dhaka grew into a metropolitan area with a population of more than 15 million and the world's 3rd most densely populated city. Credit: Ahnaf Saber. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Dhaka grew into a metropolitan area with a population of more than 15 million and the world’s 3rd most densely populated city. Credit: Ahnaf Saber. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) study has found that spreading the cost of waste removal over a series of monthly payments could make costs more affordable for poor households and also help kick-start the conversion of this waste, or fecal sludge, into profitable by-products, like fertilisers and bioenergy.

Published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the study focuses on the rural sub-district Bhaluka in Bangladesh, where the government is looking to pilot an innovative local service for sludge management.

Currently, households struggle to pay a large lump sum of 13 dollars every 3-4 years to empty their pit latrines, which is approximately 14 per cent of their monthly income.

Instead, the study has found that they could pay small monthly payments of as little as 0.31 dollars per month, or about what they spend monthly on a mobile phone service, over the same period.

“The way that sludge is currently collected is both inefficient and unsafe,” says the study’s first author Soumya Balasubramanya, a scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which leads the CGIAR ResearchProgram on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

“Our study reimagines the economics of waste collection, disposal and reuse from the ground up. Rather than collecting waste on an ad hoc basis, our system would build a strong, guaranteed consumer base and a steady flow of capital, which would allow waste collection businesses to invest in improving their equipment and services.”

Despite Bangladesh making rapid progress in rural sanitation, having built about 40 million pit latrines, a financially viable solution for emptying these pits, and transporting the sludge to a central location for treatment has not yet been found, adds Balasubramanya.

“When pits fill up, households currently hire someone to empty them, but this service creates health and environmental problems by dumping the sludge close by, as no central treatment plants exist yet,” comments Rizwan Ahmed, a co-author of the study with Bangladesh’s NGO Forum for Public Health.

“If sludge removal could be offered on a subscription basis, the cost would be more manageable for households, and critically it would help streamline the logistics of taking the sludge safely away for treatment, preventing contamination of groundwater and the spread of infections.”

The study concludes that households are willing to cover at least half the costs of the proposed system, while the remainder may initially need to be funded by the government.

However, revenue from the sale of waste by-products like fertiliser and energy may offer another potential source of funds in the future.

Early experiments into producing compost is already showing promise, especially for large-scale plantations growing non-edible commodities like rubber or cotton.

The study’s results have already helped bring this issue to the attention of top policymakers and influenced the development of Bangladesh’s first regulatory framework for fecal sludge management.

“It’s very encouraging to see the government now turning its attention to the challenge of managing the fecal sludge that on-site sanitation generates” said Jeremy Bird, director general of IWMI.

“Our research has shown that a very simple concept like cost-spreading can put the critical transportation link in the sanitation chain on a firm financial footing.”

“Until this study, we knew next to nothing about those costs and people’s willingness to pay them in rural areas,” said Balasubramanya.

“This information will help governments and entrepreneurs design financially viable systems to manage sludge from on-site latrines, not only in Bangladesh but elsewhere around the world.”

“The proposed system would offer clear benefits for individuals – convennience, privacy and better health – and that’s why they’re willing to pay,” explains Ahmed. “But the benefits to society – reduced health risks and less environmental pollution – would be even greater.”

The release of the study coincided with World Water Day on 22nd March, which this year will focus on the pressing issue of wastewater management.

According to UN-Water 80 per cent of all wastewater, including fecal sludge, gets dumped without treatment, leading to a range of health and environmental risks.

The problem is especially grave in the expanding cities and overpopulated rural areas of low-income countries, where only 8 per cent of wastewater is treated.

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Don’t Understand Clouds? But You Should!http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/dont-understand-clouds-but-you-should/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dont-understand-clouds-but-you-should http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/dont-understand-clouds-but-you-should/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:40:15 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149554 Credit: World Meteorological Organization

Credit: World Meteorological Organization

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Obviously, there are so many issues and phenomena that have been brought up by growing impact of climate change that one would likely not think about. Some of them, however, are essential and would be good to learn about. For instance, the fact that clouds play a “pivotal role” in weather forecasts and warnings.

Today scientists understand that clouds play a vital role in regulating the Earth’s energy balance, climate and weather, says the leading UN organisation dealing with meteorology.

They help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) tells. And assures that understanding clouds is essential for forecasting weather conditions, modelling the impacts of future climate change and predicting the availability of water resources.

Throughout history, clouds have inspired artists, poets, musicians, photographers and countless other enthusiasts, WMO rightly says. However, they are much more than that: clouds help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system, it explains ahead of the World Meteorological Day on March 23.

On this, the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas, emphasise that clouds play a vital role in regulating the Earth’s energy balance, climate and weather. They help to drive the water cycle and the entire climate system.

In short, understanding clouds is essential for forecasting weather conditions, modelling the impacts of future climate change and predicting the availability of water resources, he adds while reminding that throughout the centuries, few natural phenomena have inspired as much scientific thought and artistic reflection as clouds.

Consequently, the international body has opted for “Understanding Clouds” as the theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day. The purpose is to highlight the enormous importance of clouds for weather climate and water.

See what it says: “Clouds are central to weather observations and forecasts. Clouds are one of the key uncertainties in the study of climate change: we need to better understand how clouds affect the climate and how a changing climate will affect clouds. Clouds play a critical role in the water cycle and shaping the global distribution of water resources.”

Anyway, on the lighter side, the World Meteorological Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the inherent beauty and aesthetic appeal of clouds, which has inspired artists, poets, musicians, photographers and countless other enthusiasts throughout history.

Credit: World Meteorological Organization

Credit: World Meteorological Organization


An International Clouds Atlas

Most notably: the Day marks the launch of a new edition of the International Cloud Atlas after the most thorough and far-reaching revision in its long and distinguished history.

The new Atlas is “a treasure trove of hundreds of images of clouds, including a few newly classified cloud types. It also features other meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones.”

For the first time ever, the Atlas has been produced in a digital format and is accessible via both computers and mobile devices.

The International Cloud Atlas is the single authoritative and most comprehensive reference for identifying clouds, WMO continues. “It is an essential training tool for professionals in the meteorological community and those working in aviation and shipping. Its reputation is legendary among cloud enthusiasts.”

The Atlas has its roots in the late 19th century, and it was revised on several occasions in the 20th century, most recently in 1987, as a hard copy book, before the advent of the Internet.

Advances in science, technology and photography prompted WMO to undertake the ambitious and exhaustive task of revising and updating the Atlas with images contributed by meteorologists, cloud watchers and photographers from around the world.

Classifying Clouds

The present international system of Latin-based cloud classification dates back to 1803, when amateur meteorologist Luc Howard wrote The Essay on the Modification of Clouds.

Credit: World Meteorological Organization

Credit: World Meteorological Organization


The International Cloud Atlas currently recognises ten basic cloud “genera,” which are defined according to where in the sky they form and their approximate appearance. Read more about Classifying clouds

As one of the main modulators of heating in the atmosphere, WMO informs, clouds control many other aspects of the climate system. “Limited understanding of clouds is the major source of uncertainty in climate sensitivity, but it also contributes substantially to persistent biases in modelled circulation systems.”

“Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity” is one of seven Grand Challenges of the WMO World Climate Research Programme. Read more about Clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity

Learn how to identify cloud types by using this flow chart from the International Cloud Atlas. Clouds are divided into 10 fundamental types known as genera, depending on their general form.

The genera are then further subdivided based on a cloud’s particular shape, structure and transparency; the arrangement of its elements; the presence of any accessory or dependent clouds; and how it was formed. Read more about Resources.

Convinced? Then watch the sky… read the clouds!

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No Water, No Life – Don’t Waste It!http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/no-water-no-life-dont-waste-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-water-no-life-dont-waste-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/no-water-no-life-dont-waste-it/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 14:55:15 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149521 This story is part of IPS coverage of World Water Day, observed on March 22]]> Pastoralists in the Ufeyn region of Puntland are walking further and further to find water for their livestock. Credit: @WFP/K Dhanji

Pastoralists in the Ufeyn region of Puntland are walking further and further to find water for their livestock. Credit: @WFP/K Dhanji

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

During the final exams of Spanish official high school of journalists, a student was asked by the panel of professors-examiners: If scientists discover that there is water in Planet Mars, how would you announce this news, what would be your title? The student did not hesitate a second: “There is life in Mars!” The student was graduated with the highest score.

In spite of this simple truth, human beings have been systematically wasting this primordial source of life. So much, that the United Nations has warmed ahead of this year’s World Water Day, marked on March 22, “We’re all wasters when it comes to wastewater.”

In fact, the world body reminds that every time “we use water, we produce wastewater. And instead of reusing it, we let 80 per cent of it just flow down the drain. We all need to reduce and reuse wastewater as much as we can. Here are three ideas for all us wasters!”

“Water is finite. It has to serve the need of more and more people and we only have one ecosystem from which to draw our water, “ says the UN-Water’s Chair Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization.

What to Do Then?

Key organisations involved in the hard task of raising awareness among the world’s seven billion inhabitants on the vital importance of not wasting water, now remind, once more, of some simple, obvious recommendations.

Key Facts

• Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
• 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
• Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.
• 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.
• By 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 50% today.
• Currently, most cities in developing countries do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way.
• The opportunities from exploiting wastewater as a resource are enormous. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.
• The costs of wastewater management are greatly outweighed by the benefits to human health, economic development and environmental sustainability – providing new business opportunities and creating more ‘green’ jobs.

SOURCE: World Water Day


For instance: to turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or doing dishes or scrubbing vegetables. Otherwise you’re just making wastewater without even using it!

Also to put rubbish, oils, chemicals, and food in the bin, not down the drain. The dirtier your wastewater, the more energy and money it costs to treat it.

And, why not, collect used water from your kitchen sink or bathtub and use it on plants and gardens, and to wash your bike or car.

“The water passing through us and our homes is on a journey through the water cycle. By reducing the quantity and pollution of our wastewater, and by safely reusing it as much as we can, we’re all helping to protect our most precious resource,” says the World Water Day 2017.

Wasting Water in Workplaces

Water wasting is not at all limited to house. Workplaces represent a major focus in the life of workers and employers. Having access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) can contribute greatly to people’s health and productivity, and to making economies grow, says the UN.

Sanitation at the workplace means more than just toilets, it adds. It also refers to proper use and cleaning of toilets, wastewater management, and the promotion of individual employee sanitation behaviour, including the proper use of toilets and prevention of open defecation.

“Sanitation also encompasses interventions that reduce human exposure to diseases by providing a clean environment in which to work.”

There is more to learn about “Wastewater and faecal sludge management” in the International Labour Organization (ILO) toolkit WASH@Work a self-training handbook.

This handbook is a combined training and action tool designed to inform governments, employers, and workers on the needs for WASH at the workplace.

The New Black? What Is That?

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a book at World Water Week 2016 pushing for a radical rethink of the inefficient way we deal with our excreta and wastewater – and illustrating how it can be done.

Credit: UN Water

Credit: UN Water

“We need to recognize wastewater and sanitation waste for what they are –a valuable resource– and their safe management as an efficient investment in long-term sustainability.”

The book provides shocking data. In fact, the Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery, suggests that just the 330 km3 of municipal wastewater produced globally each year is enough to irrigate 40 million hectares – equivalent to 15 per cent of all currently irrigated land – or to power 130 million households through biogas generation.

UNEP and SEI–an international non-profit research organisation that has worked with environment and development issues from local to global policy levels for a quarter of a century– also say,

“When excreta from on-site systems such as pit latrines – still common across much of the world – and other organic waste such as livestock and agricultural residues and food waste are included, the potential for productive reuse gets much greater.”

Furthermore, the publication adds, these waste streams are a rich source of plant nutrients essential for agriculture; globally produced municipal wastewater alone contains the equivalent of 25 per cent of the nitrogen and 15 per cent of the phosphorus applied as chemical fertilizers, as well as vital micro-nutrients and organic matter that chemical fertilizers lack.

“In just one day, a city of 10 million flushes enough nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to fertilize about 500,000 hectares of agricultural land. In poor rural areas resource recovery could be a lifeline for small farmers.”

“Throughout history, sanitation has catalysed development,” says Kim Andersson, an SEI Research Fellow and head of the SEI Initiative on Sustainable Sanitation. “We’re at a point where it can really do that again. I’d go so far as to say that a transition to sustainable development cannot happen without a radical rethink of the way we deal with our excreta and wastewater.”

The book promises to be a key text in a growing movement to frame wastewater as a resource issue. This trend is clear not only in the number of sessions this year on wastewater and resource recovery, but also in the theme announced for next year’s gathering: “Why Waste Water”.

“How we deal with excreta and wastewater should be front and centre in discussions about water, food security and health and the future of cities – in fact about development and human well-being,” says Sarah Dickin, Research Fellow at SEI. Download the book.

Don’t know how big are you as water-wasters? Take this quick quiz. You will be amazed!

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Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:44:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149509 Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

In Asia, it likely will not be straightforward water wars.

Prolonged water scarcity might lead to security situations that are more nuanced, giving rise to a complex set of cascading but unpredictable consequences, with communities and nations reacting in ways that we have not seen in the past because climate change will alter the reliability of current water management systems and infrastructure, say experts.China plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetan Autonomous Region; the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 said a water crisis is the most impactful risk over the next 10 years. The effects of rising populations in developing regions like Asia, alongside growing prosperity, place unsustainable pressure on resources and are starting to manifest themselves in new, sometimes unexpected ways – harming people, institutions and economies, and making water security an urgent political matter.

While the focus is currently on the potential for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and a much greater flow of forced migration that is already on our doorsteps, a 2016 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warns Asia not to underestimate impact of industrial and population growth, including spiraling urban growth, on serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by 2050.

Asia’s water challenges escalate

To support a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 percent and water demand is projected to go up by 55 percent. But the horizon is challenging for developing regions, especially Asia, whose 3.4 billion population will need 100 percent more food – using the diminishing, non-substitute resource in a warming world said the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, the latest regional water report card from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More than 1.4 billion people – or 42 percent of world’s total active workforce – are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2016.

With erratic monsoons on which more than half of all agriculture in Asia is dependent, resorting to groundwater for irrigation, whose extraction is largely unmonitored, is already rampant. A staggering 70 percent of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia, with India, China and Pakistan the biggest consumers, estimates UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2050, with a 30 percent increase in extraction, 86 percent of groundwater extracted in Asia will be by these three countries, finds the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal use 23 million pumps with an annual energy bill of 3.78 billion dollars for lifting water – an indicator of the critical demand for water, and to an extent of misgovernance and lack of water-saving technologies (AWDO 2016).

AWDO sounds alarm bells warning that we are on the verge of a water crisis, with limited knowledge on when we will tip the balance.

Analysts from the Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia say the start of future transboundary water conflicts will have less to do with the absolute scarcity of water and more to do with the rate of change in water availability.

 

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India's Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India’s Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

‘Resource nationalism’ already strong in water-stressed Asian neighbours

With just 30 days of buffer fresh water stock, Pakistan’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 2014 measured a perilous 297 cubic metres, Bangladesh’s 660m3 India’s 1116m3 and China’s 2062m3. When annual water access falls below 1700m3 per person, an area is considered water-stressed and when 1000m3 is breached, it faces water scarcity.

ADB describes Asia as “the global hotspot for water insecurity.

By 2050 according to AWDO, 3.4 billion people – or the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2050 – making up 40 percent of the world population, could be living in water-stressed areas. In other words, the bulk of the population increase will be in countries already experiencing water shortages.

Underlying geo-political standpoints are slowly but perceptibly hardening in Himalayan Asia nations over shared river basins, even if not intensifying as yet, seen in the latest instances last year. They are, as water conflict analysts predict, spurts of bilateral tension that might or might not suddenly escalate to conflict, the scale of which cannot be predicted. The following, a latest instance, is a pointer to future scenarios of geographical interdependencies that riparian nations can either reduce by sensible hydro-politics or escalate differences by contestations.

There was alarm in Pakistan when Indian Prime Minister took a stand in September last year to review the 57-year-old Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours. India was retaliating against a purportedly Pakistan terrorist attack on an Indian army base at Uri in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

By co-incidence or design (several Indian analysts think it is the latter), at the very same time China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River which is the upper course of the Brahmaputra in India, as part of the construction of its 740-million-dollar Lalho hydro project in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River originates in the Himalayan ranges, and is called the Brahmaputra as it flows down into India’s Arunachal Pradesh state bordering Tibet and further into Bangladesh.

China’s action caused India alarm on two counts. Some analysts believed Beijing was trying to encourage Dhaka to take up a defensive stand against India over sharing of Brahmaputra waters, thereby destabilizing India-Bangladesh’s cordial ally status in the region.

The second possibility analysts proffered is an alarming and fairly new military risk. River water, when dammed, can be intentionally used as a weapon of destruction during war.

Pakistan had earlier raised the same security concern, that India may exercise a strategic advantage during war by regulating the two major dams on rivers that flow through Kashmir into Pakistan. Indian experts say China is more likely than India to take this recourse and will use the river water as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations.

South Asia as a region is prone to conflict between nations, between non-state actors and the state. Its history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences makes it more volatile than most other regions. Historically China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had territorial wars between them. The  wary and increasingly competitive outlook of their relationships makes technology-grounded and objective discussions over the erupting water disputes difficult.

China already plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetian Autonomous Region with the Tibetan Plateau, around which the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic. The glacier-fed rivers that emanate from this ‘water tower’ are shared across borders by 40 percent of world population, guaranteeing food, water and energy security to millions of people and nurturing biodiverse ecosystems downstream.

The largest three trans-boundary basins in the region – in terms of area, population, water resources, irrigation and hydropower potential – are the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra.

Both India and China have embarked on massive hydropower energy generation, China for industrialization and India to provide for its population, which will be the world’s largest by 2022.

With growing food and energy needs, broad estimates suggest that more than half of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Dams have enormous benefits, but without comprehensive water-sharing treaties, lower riparian states are disadvantaged and this could turn critical in future.

While there are river-water sharing treaties between India and Pakistan, and with Bangladesh, there is none with China except a hydrological data sharing collaboration.

Security threats emerge when it becomes difficult to solve competition over scarce natural resources by cooperation. Failure may result in violent conflicts. A ‘zero-sum’ situation is reached, when violence is seen as the only option to secure use of the resource, says a 2016 report by the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

When drivers in Asia, like population growth, the need for economic growth, poverty reduction, energy needs, the impact of high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyles, confront resource scarcity, it could bring a zero-sum situation sooner than anticipated.

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Three Times as Many Mobile Phones as Toilets in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:02:57 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149503 Clean water is still a pipe dream for more than 300 million Africans. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Clean water is still a pipe dream for more than 300 million Africans. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

Though key to good health and economic wellbeing, water and sanitation remain less of a development priority in Africa, where high costs and poor policy implementation constrain getting clean water and flush toilets to millions.

A signatory to several agreements committing to water security, Africa simply cannot afford the infrastructure to bring water to everyone, argues water expert Mike Muller.Lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

Sub-Saharan Africa uses less than five percent of its water resources, but making water available to all can be prohibitively expensive, Muller, of the Wits University School of Governance in South Africa and a former director general of the South African Department of Water, told IPS.

“Domestic water supply is a political priority in Africa and sanitation has grown in importance,” he said, “but the services cost money.”

According to the World Water Council, a global body with over 300 members founded in 1996 to advocate for world water security, the world needs to spend an estimated 650 billion dollars annually from now to 2030 to build necessary infrastructure to ensure universal water security.

Water woes still running

Africa is still far from enjoying the returns from investments in the water sector; for example, it has more citizens with mobile phones than access to clean water and toilets. A 2016 report published by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, which explored access to basic services and infrastructure in 35 African countries, found that only 30 percent of Africans had access to toilets and only 63 percent to piped water – yet 93 percent had mobile phone service.

Governments need to invest in water projects that will avail clean water to all in a world where over 800 million people currently do not have access to safe drinking water, and where water-related diseases account for 3.5 million deaths each year, said the World Water Council in a statement ahead of the World Water Day. The WWC warned that water insecurity costs the global economy an estimated 500 billion dollars annually.

“World leaders realize that sanitation is fundamental to public health, but we need to act now in order to achieve the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 – to deliver safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030,” World Water Council President Benedito Braga said in a statement. “We need commitment at the highest levels, so every town and city in the world can ensure that safe, clean water resources are available.”

Noting the key impact of water access, Braga warned that lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

“Water is an essential ingredient for social and economic development across nearly all sectors. It secures enough food for all, provides sufficient and stable energy supplies, and ensures market and industrial stability amongst others benefits,” he said, adding that the world has missed the sanitation target, leaving 2.4 billion people without access to improved sanitation facilities, necessitating the investment in water and sanitation which the World Water Council said brought an estimated 4.3 dollars in return for every dollar invested through reduced health care costs.

Children fetch water from a canal at the Magwe irrigation scheme in south Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Children fetch water from a canal at the Magwe irrigation scheme in south Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Wealth from wastewater

World Water Day 2017 focuses on waste water, which the United Nations inter-agency entity UN-Water says is an untapped source of wealth if properly treated.

The United Nations defines wastewater as “a combination of domestic effluent consisting of blackwater (excreta, urine and faecal sludge) and greywater (kitchen and bathing wastewater) in addition to water from commercial establishments and institutions, industrial and agricultural effluent.”

According the fourth World Water Development Report, currently only 20 percent of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment, and this was mainly dependent on a country’s income. This means treatment capacity is 70 percent of the generated wastewater in high-income countries, compared to only 8 percent in low-income countries, according to a UN-Water Analytics Brief, Waste Water Management.

“A paradigm shift is now required in water politics the world over not only to prevent further damage to sensitive ecosystems and the aquatic environment, but also to emphasize that wastewater is a resource (in terms of water and also nutrient for agricultural use) whose effective management is essential for future water security,” said UN-Water.

Muller said Africa cannot talk of waste water without first delivering adequate clean water.

“The focus on waste water reflects the rich world’s desire to reduce pollution, protect the environment and sell technology,” Muller said. “There are some major cities and towns where ‘used’ water is treated and reused, in others untreated water is sought after by peri-urban farmers because it provides valuable fertilizer as well.

“But in places without adequate water supplies or sewers to remove the wastewater, waste water treatment is not yet a priority, [and] without water supply there can be no waste water.”

According to the World Water Council, about 90 percent of the world’s wastewater flows untreated into the environment. More than 923 million people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion others do not have adequate sanitation.

“Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population already faces water scarcity, which may increase to two-thirds of the population by 2025. In addition, approximately 700 million people are living in urban areas without safe toilets,” the Council said.

Waste water can be a drought-resistant source of water especially for agriculture or industry, nutrients for agriculture, soil conditioner and source of energy.

Some impurities in wastewater are useful as organic fertilizers. With proper treatment, wastewater can be useful in supporting pasture for grazing by livestock.

Clever Mafuta, Africa Coordinator at GRID-Arendal, a Norway-based centre that collaborates with the UN Environment, says an integrated and holistic approach is needed in water management across the world.

“Making strides in safe drinking water alone is a temporary success if other elements such as sanitation and wastewater management are not attended to, especially in urban areas,” Mafuta told IPS. “Wastewater often ends up in drinking sources, and as such if wastewater is not managed well, gains made in the provision of safe drinking water can be eroded.”

The UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water – the same as an entire year’s labour by the population of France.

The Africa Water Vision 2025 launched by a number of UN agencies and African regional bodies in 2000 noted extreme climate and rainfall variability, inappropriate governance and institutional arrangements in managing national and transactional water basins and unsustainable financing of investments in water supply and sanitation as some of the threats to water security in Africa.

African ministers responsible for sanitation and hygiene adopted the Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene in May 2015 in Senegal, committing to access to sanitation and eliminating open defecation by 2030. However, this goal remains extremely distant.

African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) has developed an African monitoring and reporting system for the water and sanitation sector. Executive Secretary Canisius Kanangire calls it an important step in ensuring effective and efficient management of the continent’s water resources and the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation for all.

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Smiling Towards Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/smiling-towards-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smiling-towards-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/smiling-towards-development/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 00:01:55 +0000 Andrea Vale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149485 Happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger and stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Credit: Mahmud Rassel/cc by 2.0

Happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger and stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Credit: Mahmud Rassel/cc by 2.0

By Andrea Vale
ROME, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Previous indications of national prosperity have focused on income, poverty, health and, above all, Gross Domestic Product, but on March 20th, World Happiness Day commemorates what is perhaps becoming the new way to measure welfare: happiness.

On this day, the 2017 World Happiness Report – the fifth to be published since the inaugural 2012 report – will be released by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting years of research and development that began in 2015.

In contrast to the shorter World Happiness Report 2016 Update released last March, World Happiness Report 2017 will be a more comprehensive look at the factors leading to, as well as implications of, happiness. The report will include two separate chapters which each focusing on a sub-population in China and Africa, as well as deeper analyses of workplace happiness.

The 2017 report will also introduce a focus on the happiness implications of immigrants and refugees, reflecting a necessity brought on by the rising rates of migration worldwide.

The 2016 report listed the happiest country in the world as Denmark, followed in descending order by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Conversely, Burundi was ranked least in happiness, claiming the bottom spot just below Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia and Tanzania, in ascending order of happiness.

In this instance, happiness was gauged by measuring a combination of GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. But as Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb recently pointed out in an article published in Blue Wings, “it’s difficult to measure the happiness of a nation or what a country should do in order to boost it. The feeling of happiness is personal and by definition subjective.”

Governments, Stubbs noted, “do not create individual happiness, but they can focus on at least five things that create the right conditions for individuals to thrive: security, health care, education, equality and infrastructure.”

Why devote so much time and effort into measuring happiness? Because happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two form a complementary relationship – the happier a country is, the more progress it has made towards the SDGs, and the more progress a country has made towards the SDGs, the happier it is.

In the 2016 World Happiness Report, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs compared progress towards the SDGs, national competitiveness and economic freedom in a regression chart, finding that though the former two accounted for high levels of positive increase in a country’s happiness, the latter had increasingly less.

“Economic freedom per se does not seem to explain much, if anything, about cross-country happiness after controlling for national competitiveness and progress towards the SDGs,” Sachs said.

Happiness is a particularly relevant concept considering the spike of mental health awareness among high school and college-aged persons. Talking openly about depression, anxiety and general well-being has become increasingly important to young people, and has begun to be considered as vital to assessing one’s life as income, health and other classic gauges of prosperity. In other words, it is no longer enough to simply be in good health and have a well-paying job; in order to have a ‘good’ life, one must feel fulfilled and satisfied in their daily lives. One must be happy.

Making a country happier could result in more than just a brighter day: it could result in less hunger, higher education rates and better equality.

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Oh Happy Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/oh-happy-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oh-happy-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/oh-happy-day/#comments Sat, 18 Mar 2017 19:46:31 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149479 A Sudanese girl beams with happiness at the inauguration ceremony of the Transitional Government of National Unity of Sudan in Khartoum. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

A Sudanese girl beams with happiness at the inauguration ceremony of the Transitional Government of National Unity of Sudan in Khartoum. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Once a year, there is a day when the seven billion inhabitants of Planet Earth should feel happy or at least are encouraged to do so–the World Happiness Day, which is marked every year on March 20. So far, so good.

But what happiness is all about? And who are the world’s happiest people… or at least the happy ones?

According to the Day’s promoters—the United Nations “It’s –literally– a day to be happy, of course!” Consequently, the world body has celebrated, since 2013, the International Day of Happiness “as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.”

Now the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek “to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet– three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.” Fine!

Being this a really sound idea, the UN invites each person “of any age, plus every classroom, business and government to celebrate the International Day of Happiness using hashtag #SmallSmurfsBigGoals.”

And it asks you to pledge to create more happiness in the world, and to share your happiness with the world.

All this is fine. But how, and when did the idea of celebrating a world happiness day was conceived? Which countries are the happiest? And, more importantly, are people really happy?

Two happy students from the Kulturama School of Performing Arts in Stockholm pose for a picture during Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to their school. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Two happy students from the Kulturama School of Performing Arts in Stockholm pose for a picture during Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to their school. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe


The idea, according to former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in his address in Aril 2012 to a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm “ is that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

The meeting was convened at an initiative of small (770,000 inhabitants) but great Asian country–Bhutan, which already in the early 70s recognised the “supremacy” of national happiness over national income and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP), which measures the total value of goods and services produced by a country in one year, including profits made in foreign countries.

The Happy Kingdom of the Himalaya…

Well, that Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, which is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys, has been so far the first-ever country to apply the supremacy of people’s happiness—measured in terms of people’s happiness, over macro-economic indicators.

Children from the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced performed in 2015 traditional dances at the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, El Fasher, Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Children from the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced performed in 2015 traditional dances at the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, El Fasher, Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


In that period, in the 1970s, developing countries were focused on increasing economic success to help develop prosperity. Then, Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, however, believed an economic approach dehumanised the development process. Therefore, he instead decided to focus on a concept that he precisely called “Gross National Happiness.

For that there is an institution—the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, which works precisely on the Gross National Happiness. It is a government autonomous organisation, mandated to carry out research on GNH. Its first pilot GNH Survey was carried out in 2006 with 350 respondents.

The questionnaire was further refined after the pilot survey and it was administered to 950 respondents from 12 dzongkhags. And it was again reviewed and refined for a nation wide GNH Survey which was carried out in 2010.

The Survey’s result was then used to develop the indicators and set benchmark values for the different indicators that were used for the GNH Index. The next nation-wide GNH Survey was carried out in 2015. The results of both these surveys are available here, showing the people are happy.

… The Happy Emirates of the Gulf

There is another small (around 6 million inhabitants) but rich country (second richest in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia)—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has created a Ministry of Happiness.

It is a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain, located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. And it decided a year ago to create that Ministry for Happiness as part of the largest-ever government reshuffling that implied the appointment of a cabinet of 30 ministers and secretary of state, including 8 women.

The youngest woman minister–only 22-years-old, Ohoud al-Roumi, was appointed as minister of State for Happiness. Her mission is to drive policy “to create social good and satisfaction.”

In 2016, the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness and referenced GNH as the background for the initiative

Moreover, a new post of minister of State for Tolerance was also created “to promote such virtue “as a fundamental value in UAE society.” Another woman, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, heads this ministry.

The same year, 2016, Thailand launched its own GNH Initiative.

… And The Happy Women of Brazil

The GNH concept evolved through the contribution of international and local scholars and researchers to become an initiative beyond the borders of Bhutan.

The idea of measuring peoples’ happiness has been gradually extended to other countries. For instance, in the year 2012, studies showed that Brazilian women are happy. Not only happy—they declared being much happier than men.

According to a study published five years ago by Brazilian Bubble, which provides the business and financial community with an economic and investment perspective on Brazil, on a scale of zero to ten, the Brazilians had to rate their current perception of happiness and expectations of future joy.

Averaging 8.98 against 8.51 for the Danish women (second place), Brazilian women showed their grace and optimism about life, being the international average was 6.74. In the last place of the ranking were the women of Zimbabwe, with 4.04.

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UN FARMS to Create One Million Days of Work for Mideast Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-farms-to-create-one-million-days-of-work-for-mideast-migrants/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 17:18:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149437 Fedah sayah Irshaid (42 years old) tends to some of her grape vines with the help of her husband and daughter. Fedah is a recipient of a Revolving loan for her plant nursery and rabbit raising business. She received the loan from the Al Khaldiyah Cooperative for Military Retired. Copyright: ©IFAD/Ivor Prickett/Panos

Fedah sayah Irshaid (42 years old) tends to some of her grape vines with the help of her husband and daughter. Fedah is a recipient of a Revolving loan for her plant nursery and rabbit raising business. She received the loan from the Al Khaldiyah Cooperative for Military Retired. Copyright: ©IFAD/Ivor Prickett/Panos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

The problem is rather complex and often not recognised: in one of the major regions of both origin and destination for migrants and refugees — the Near East and North of Africa, 10 per cent of rural communities is made up of forcibly displaced persons, while more than 25 per cent of the young rural people plan to emigrate.

This has a strong rural dimension, with large numbers of displaced people originating in rural areas, and now living in rural host communities within or outside their home countries.

In recent years, forced displacement has become a global problem of unprecedented scale, driven by conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations.

While the total number of displaced people reached an all-time high of more 65 million people, global attention has focused on the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, where continued conflict and violence most acutely affect Iraq, Syria, Yemen and neighbouring countries.

The total impacted population in the region is estimated at around 22 million people, a fact that generates additional pressure on both the host areas and the sending areas.

The UN, through its Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), designed an innovative response to the on-going crisis: FARMS (Facility for Refugees, Migrants, Forced Displacement and Rural Stability), which was announced at the UN World Summit on Migration held in September last year at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Internally Displaced, Migrants, Refugees

IPS asked Khalida Bouzar, Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division, who is in charge of FARMS at IFAD, if the Facility is meant for displaced rural persons within each country or if it also includes migrants and forcibly displaced persons fleeing conflicts and/or natural and man-made disasters?

Bouzar explains that in terms of displaced people, FARMS will cover both international refugees (people displaced across borders) and internally displaced people (forced to flee from their homes due to conflict or other extraneous factors but remaining within their country), she adds.

Khalida Bouzar greeting Sudan's Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Badr Al Din Mahmoud Abbas.  Credit: IFAD

Khalida Bouzar greeting Sudan’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Badr Al Din Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: IFAD

FARMS will also address the needs of host communities (the local population) to reduce the stress on natural resources and economic opportunities. In origin communities, it will create opportunities for the entire community.

Specifically, Bouzar said that in host areas, the local communities will be supported in coping with the influx of displaced people by making their agriculture more productive and sustainable. The displaced, in turn, will be better able to contribute to their host communities, and better prepared to return home when the situation improves.

Regarding the “sending areas”, economic opportunities will be created so that people who have left have something to return to, and those who remain have a chance to build their livelihoods. “With FARMS, we seek to deliver long-term peace and development dividends. It is paramount to create a healthy climate for economic opportunities, and enable displaced people to return to their communities,” says Bouzar.

So far, about USD 20 million has been identified for the facility, with the goal of reaching USD 100 million.

FARMS resources will be provided in the form of co-financing support for the on-going IFAD portfolio of about USD 1.2 billion in the NENA region as well as stand-alone grants or activities and communication products to raise global awareness of the issues.

According to Bouzar, FARMS will strengthen the resilience of rural host areas to the impacts of large inflows of refugees, and will also create resilient livelihoods in the origin areas to break the cycle of migration and incentivise the eventual return of migrants.

One Million Days of Work

FARMS will create one million days of work, including at least 20,000 opportunities for youth. “This will be achieved over the life of the projects, and therefore over the next 5 to 6 years,” says Bouzar.

Other objectives are to implement at least 500 community infrastructure projects, and to increase social resilience by strengthening community and local government capacity to manage their development, resolve conflicts, and address the needs of refugees.

FARMS also aims at improving governance and management of natural resources, particularly land and water, as well as to improve the policy and regulatory frameworks to address the needs of rural host and sending communities.

Regarding the main causes of displacement, the IFAD’s Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division explains that these could be conflict, natural disasters, or climate-change related vulnerabilities and pressures. Often the cause is a combination of different factors.

Ten Priority Countries

Bouzar informs that the initial priority countries include: Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen.

In the first phase, the facility will focus on the NENA region where the current crisis is most acute, with the possibility of scaling up globally in the future. In fact, says Bouzar, after the initial pilot of projects in the NENA region, FARMS could be scaled up to potentially include displacement in other regions.

Asked about the countries, which have been supportive of FARMS and about the amount of financial resources allocated to this project, Bouzar says the IFAD has received support from a wide range of IFAD members.

“Countries in the region have stepped up as crucial early partners, too. The Government of Jordan is collaborating with IFAD, and more partnerships are being designed with Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan.”

Why IFAD? According to Bouzar, the Fund is well positioned to be a key partner in bridging the gap between humanitarian and sustainable development responses in rural areas, and is already actively engaged in many of the most affected regions.

In fact, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda recognised IFAD’s comparative advantage as a major investor in poor rural people and affirmed that rural development could achieve “rich payoffs across the SDGs,” she adds.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since its creation in 1978, it has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.

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A Structural Theory of Aginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-structural-theory-of-aging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-structural-theory-of-aging http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-structural-theory-of-aging/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 13:16:39 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149402 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including '50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,' published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including '50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,' published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

Wikipedia has much to offer under “aging”. Highly recommended are the 10 points by the world’s oldest living man, 114, Walter Breuning.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

However, older persons, like me at 86, know their own aging best. Less trouble with “oxidant stress” as a major cause, having used anti-oxidants based on blueberry skin–no chemicals–for decades. 20,000 blood stem em cells renew my blood, but they are dying. Problematic.

Rule no. 1: Keep mind and body active; maintain a good nutrition.

Obvious to counteract aging. However, equally important:

Rule no. 2: Be open to the positive sides and advantages of aging.

Bertrand Russell’s “On Being 90″ in the Observer dispenses with the disadvantages as obvious, in favor of his advantage: the overview. At the age of 5 he sat on the knee of a man who had fought Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815-=-. The longer the lives we have lived, the more events have impinged upon us. An “overview” identifies some link, a narrative, a common factor. That identification is often referred to as “wisdom”.

However: thigh muscles weaken, walking falters, fatigue, seeing and hearing impaired. Exercise helps, but aging is unavoidable.

Rule no. 3: At least do not fall; not breaking fragile bones, no ending up bedridden in a hospital, contracting new diseases. Equip the room, the home, the context with handles and handrails.

Then the mental aspects of aging: memories failing, not only of recent events, less ability to handle many and simultaneous stimuli. As a result, many and more mistakes reinforcing the sense of aging.

Rule no. 4: Simplify the context, contract the circle of living. Be realistic, change the structure of daily life, narrow the circle to what can be handled easily: the ward, the village, the context, the home, the room–but then equipped with a maximum of music, books, social media, as enriching as possible. If driving, then on known roads with little traffic, in small towns, villages.

Rule no. 5: Togetherness. A society with much loneliness for young or old is a bad society. Get old together, with a spouse, a cooperating partner. Much conversation will be about pains suffered. But cut it short. Focus on positives, beautiful landscapes, gardens, music, literature. Enjoyment together is more than double enjoyment.

Make shared meals as much of a feast as possible. The ability to enjoy good food lasts; our senses of smell and taste are more solid. No smoking of course and moderation with alcohol, sugar and cereals. Let good food and drinks stay a while in the mouth where the taste buds are, tied to the smell; do not just swallow and “wash it down”.

Rule no. 6: Live both real and virtual lives. Postmodern life has two realities; not only what we sense but also a virtual, IT, reality with friendship and enriching exchanges activating the mind. IT offers all of that–with no risks of falling!–in the simple context of a ca computer. Particularly when adding Skype, and even free!

Rule no. 7: no retirement. Go for a job where the older can share experiences with the younger, even if no longer showing up at work. A work place closed to the older is a bad work place. In post-modernity this is possible in ways unthought-of, for mutual benefit. How much, paid or unpaid, can be negotiated. Being productive is what matters.

Negate this. Retire, cut all links, live only one reality, alone/lonely, in a complex world with physical and mental risks, nothing positive, passively, no exercise, bad nutrition. Brutish, nasty, and short.

Better contract from the macro-society of country-region-world to a rich micro-society of a circle around oneself and the partner(s), relating to other circles. But it does not have to be that micro.

We can argue: high time. To be born into micro-society, then the macro-society of education and work, and then a poor micro-society of retirement is not good enough. Traditionally, women continue working longer than men, living more human lives. Is this why women live longer?

Due to better health, and family planning favoring 2 children, we now have aging populations and even more return into micro-society in old age homes.

Some time ago, huge macro-society growth swallowed such micro-societies as villages; now there is a return to villages and a return to childhood at old age. And macro becomes even more macro, regional, global, marginalizing the old even more. Inhuman; a far cry from retired farmers still living on the farm for care and experience.

Major structural changes, hence this structural theory of aging.

In those micro-societies of the aged, with nurses and others for “assisted living”, all know that the purpose of still living is dying. And before that there may be physical and mental suffering. Inhuman!

Fight it; practice Rules 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Aging is nothing to be afraid of, but foresight and planning are indispensable. Some macro can be created. A married couple here and an unmarried there, each managing in their ways, can relate, exchange experiences, also to old-age homes that may be the longer term answer to the aging. Virtually this micro to micro can even cross borders. Reconquering macro life.

Let me end on a subjective note. Having lived an eventful rich life, including meeting many people “high up”, I remember thinking “how can I live without this when I get older”? I find myself, older, thinking “how could I live without the wonderful life I now have”? Deluding myself, in both cases, closing the eye to all the negatives? Maybe. But then, maybe some selection is part of a good life.

I find myself floating, navigating through time and life, trying, not always successfully, to do more good and less harm. Not concluding that the present is the best period although it often feels like that. It is different, and very good. One positive aspect is obvious: with less work in the sense of a job there is more time for work in the sense of being creative. With hands and the mind. On the computer.

Thanks, Life, the best of all gifts. For every day.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 March 2017: TMS: A Structural Theory of Aging

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

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New Evidence Confirms Risk That Mideast May Become Uninhabitablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-evidence-confirms-risk-that-mideast-may-become-uninhabitable/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 16:42:43 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149392 The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 13 2017 (IPS)

New evidence is deepening scientific fears, advanced few years ago, that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years.

This sharp water scarcity simply not only affects the already precarious provision of drinking water for most of the region’s 22 countries, home to nearly 400 million inhabitants, but also the availability of water for agriculture and food production for a fast growing population.“Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response" – Graziano da Silva.

The new facts are stark: per capita availability of fresh water in the region is now 10 times less than the world average. Moreover, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields a further 27 per cent to 55 per cent less by the end of this century.

Add to this that the region’s fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations leading agency in the field of food and agriculture.

Moreover, 90 per cent of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45 per cent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, adds the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Meanwhile, agriculture in the region uses around 85 per cent of the total available freshwater, it reports, adding that over 60 per cent of water resources in the region flows from outside national and regional boundaries.

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

This alarming situation has prompted FAO’s director general to call for urgent action. On his recent visit to Cairo, Jose Graziano da Silva said that access to water is a “fundamental need for food security, human health and agriculture”, and its looming scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an “urgent and massive response”.

Meantime, the rising sea level in the Nile Delta –which hosts the most fertile lands in Egypt– is exposing the region’s most inhabited country (almost 100 million people) to the danger of losing substantial parts of the most productive agriculture land due to salinisation.

“Competition between water-usage sectors will only intensify in the future between agriculture, energy, industrial production and household needs,” on March 9 warned Graziano da Silva.

FAO’s chief attended in Cairo a high-level meeting on the Rome-based organisation’s collaboration with Egypt on the “1.5 million feddan initiative” {1 feddan is equivalent to 0.42 hectares, or 1.038 acres}, the Egyptian government’s plan to reclaim eventually up to two million hectares of desert land for agricultural and other uses.

What to Do?

Egypt’s future agenda is particularly tough as the country “needs to look seriously into the choice of crops and the patterns of consumption,” Graziano da Silva also warned, pointing to potential water waste in cultivating wheat in the country.

“Urgent actions supporting it include measures aimed at reducing food loss and waste and bolstering the resilience of smallholders and family farmers, that require implementing a mix of social protection interventions, investments and technology transfers.”

Specialty crops such as fruit and vegetables, here on sale at a Cairo market, have a key role in Egypt's future. Credit: FAO

Specialty crops such as fruit and vegetables, here on sale at a Cairo market, have a key role in Egypt’s future. Credit: FAO

The UN specialised agency leads a Near East and North Africa Water Scarcity Initiative that provides both policy advice and best practice ideas on the governance of irrigation schemes. The Initiative is now backed by a network of more than 30 national and international organisations.

The Big Risk

Several scientific studies about ongoing climate change impact on the Middle East region, particularly in the Gulf area, had already sounded loud warning drums.

“Within this century, parts of the Persian Gulf region could be hit with unprecedented events of deadly heat as a result of climate change, according to a study of high-resolution climate models,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research said.

The research–titled “Persian Gulf could experience deadly heat”, reveals details of a business-as-usual scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, but also shows that curbing emissions could forestall these “deadly temperature extremes.”

The study, which was published in detail ahead of the Paris climate summit in the journal Nature Climate Change, was conducted by Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University.

The authors conclude that conditions in the Persian Gulf region, including its shallow water and intense sun, make it “a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future.”

Running high-resolution versions of standard climate models, Eltahir and Pal found that many major cities in the region could exceed a tipping point for human survival, even in shaded and well-ventilated spaces. Eltahir says this threshold “has, as far as we know … never been reported for any location on Earth.”

For its part, the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change latest assessment warns that the climate is predicted to become even hotter and drier in most of the Middle East and North of Africa region.

Higher temperatures and reduced precipitation will increase the occurrence of droughts, an effect that is already materializing in the Maghreb,” said the World Bank while citing the IPCC assessment.

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Khat in the Horn of Africa: A Scourge or Blessing?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/khat-in-the-horn-of-africa-a-scourge-or-blessing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=khat-in-the-horn-of-africa-a-scourge-or-blessing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/khat-in-the-horn-of-africa-a-scourge-or-blessing/#comments Sun, 12 Mar 2017 21:54:18 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149373 Men lounging in Dire Dawa’s Chattara Market chewing khat, Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Men lounging in Dire Dawa’s Chattara Market chewing khat, Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Mar 12 2017 (IPS)

Throughout a Sunday afternoon in the Ethiopian capital, Yemeni émigré men in their fifties and sixties arrive at a traditional Yemeni-styled mafraj room clutching bundles of green, leafy stalks: khat.

As the hours pass they animatedly discuss economics, politics, history, life and more while chewing the leaves. The gathering is a picture of civility. But in many countries khat has a bad reputation, with it either being banned or prompting calls for it to be banned. Khat is an institution, wielding enormous economic impact, as well as playing a major social and cultural role in societies.

Understanding khat—or as it is also known and spelt: jima, mira, qat, chat, cat; and whose leaves when chewed act as a psychotropic stimulant with what some would call amphetamine effects—is far from straightforward.

This innocuous-looking plant has experts variously claiming it is as mild as tea or as addictive as cocaine. Hence a few years ago khat’s international reputation presented a particularly conflicting picture: it was legal in Britain, banned in the US, celebrated in Yemen and vilified in Saudi Arabia.

In the Horn of Africa, khat is an institution, wielding enormous economic impact, as well as playing a major social and cultural role in societies. In the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, you won’t find much khat-related dissent.

“It brings people together, it facilitates discussion of issues and exchanging information,” says local journalist Abdul, the corners of his mouth speckled with green mush. “In the West it’s often difficult for people to interact, but here they learn about their neighbours and what problems they have.”

It’s estimated 90 percent of Somaliland’s adult male population—and about 20 percent of women—chew khat for mirqaan, the Somali word for the buzz it can give.

Nowadays khat is so enmeshed with Somaliland culture and daily life it’s an important tax earner for Somaliland’s government. In 2014, khat sales generated 20 percent of the government’s 152-million-dollar budget, according to the Somaliland Ministry of Finance.

Khat is also the No. 1 employer in Hargeisa, the Somaliland capital, generating between 8,000 and 10,000 jobs, thereby offering much-needed respite to the country’s chronic unemployment problem that see 75 percent of its youth workforce jobless.

Meanwhile, for Ethiopia, khat is a major earner: Somaliland spends about 524 million dollars a year—about 30 percent of gross domestic product—on Ethiopian khat (many suspect the true figure to be much higher).

A woman and child surrounded by bags of khat they’ve brought to sell at Dire Dawa’s Chattara Market, Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A woman and child surrounded by bags of khat they’ve brought to sell at Dire Dawa’s Chattara Market, Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Another of Ethiopia’s eastern neighbours, Djibouti, is reportedly Ethiopia’s most lucrative external market. Hence the Ethiopian government looks on khat as a useful exportable product to other countries, bringing in sorely need foreign currency, the access to which presents a perennial problem in Ethiopia.

Much of Ethiopia’s prime khat grows in the hills around the prominent eastern Ethiopian cities of Dire Dawa and Harar, about 150km from the border with Somaliland. In Dire Dawa’s Chattara market, khat trading continues late into the night under naked lightbulbs iridescent in the hot darkness.

Between these two cities is the city of Aweday, which despite its smaller stature is in fact the hub of Ethiopia’s khat trade—hence its nickname: khat city.

The morning after the nightly trade and dispatch of bundles of khat around the region and world, every street beside the main road running through Aweday is covered in discarded green leaves. Meanwhile, trucks loaded with khat are hurtling eastward along rough roads through the Ethiopian lowlands, and planes with identical cargo are threading through azure skies, to make their deliveries in Djibouti, Somaliland and beyond.

Lower quality khat costs about 12 dollars a kilo in Hargeisa, rising to 26 for medium quality and 58 for high quality. The majority of customers typically spend between 2 and 10 dollars for a day’s worth of khat that throughout Somaliland amounts to a national daily spend of 1.18 million dollars, and from which the government gets its important tax cut.

“I worry about the health effects but it helps me with my work,” says Nafyar, who often works late nights for his administrative job in Hargeisa.

“To really understand khat you have to chew it.”

But others are far less willing to go to give khat the benefit of the doubt.

“The problem comes down to the man not being part of the family and the woman being left to do everything,” says Fatima Saeed, a political advisor to Somaliland’s opposition Wadani Party, who previously worked for 15 years with the United Nations. “Men sit for hours chewing—it’s very addictive.”

She highlighted other potential consequences for those chewing: “It can bring about hallucinations, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, deaden sexual urges, while in others it increases them.”

Furthermore, others point out the flipside of khat’s supposed economic windfall.

“Khat is a massive burden on Somaliland’s fragile economy since it means that a large percentage of its foreign currency is used to purchase khat,” says Rakiya Omaar with Horizon Institute, a consultancy firm that works on strengthening the capacity and self-reliance of institutions in Somaliland.

A Somaliland man picking khat leaves during an afternoon session in the capital, Hargeisa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A Somaliland man picking khat leaves during an afternoon session in the capital, Hargeisa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Another problem stems from the fact that for khat to have the desired stimulating effect it must be chewed continuously for hours.

“We need to develop this country, and for that you should be working eight hours a day, but that’s not happening here,” says Omar, a British Somalilander who returned to Hargeisa to take advantage of perceived business opportunities in the emerging economy. He explains how many employees work half a day and then head off for an afternoon of khat.

Khat is accused of causing dependency at the detriment of gainful employment. Unemployed Somalilanders are certainly not deterred from their khat habit that can cost up to 300 dollars a month as they while away jobless hours, borrowing money from friends. 

Saeed says she supported lobbying to ban khat in the UK, and which proved successful with a ban being implemented in 2014, due to the negative impact khat was having on the Somali diaspora community there.

“Khat would arrive at 5 p.m. on the plane and by 6 p.m. men had left homes and wouldn’t return until 6 a.m.,” Saeed says. “After the ban it was like people woke up from a deep sleep—they started looking for jobs, being part of the family.”

But in the political context of Somaliland remaining an unrecognised country, cut off from global financial systems and investment, khat trade provides an obvious viable and sustainable commercial opportunity. Take that away and Somaliland’s economy might face even more strain.

Khat has a long history in the Horn of Africa and surrounding region. Its leaves were viewed as sacred by the ancient Egyptians, while Sufi religious men chewed khat to remain awake during nocturnal meditations on the Koran—hence khat’s affiliation with the divine. Now khat exists very much in the mainstream.

“It’s better than alcohol as you can still function normally afterwards,” says Abdul, who chews whenever he is on deadline. “It affects people differently, it depends on your personality: after khat some like to read, others to work.”

Among the 10 percent of Somaliland men not chewing khat, however, opinion differs markedly.

“I don’t chew as I know the effects,” says 24-year-old university lecturer Abdukarim at a busy Hargeisa coffee shop. “Initially you feel happy, confident, strong and high. The problem is the result. At the end you are weak. It should be banned, but I don’t want to say more here.”

Regulation of when khat’s imported across the border from Ethiopia and sold during the day in Somaliland would help temper present problems, Saeed says, as would implementing an age limit—currently there isn’t one. But, she adds, the present government won’t take any action due to the amounts of money and vested interests involved.

But many others continue to defend khat, arguing it plays an important communal role.

Well before the UK ban, the London Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence issued a factsheet stating: “In cultures where its use is indigenous, khat has traditionally been used socially, much like coffee in Western culture.”

Khat undercuts preconceived ideas, challenging our conceptions of what a drug is, of what addiction is, of what an addicted society looks like.

“I chewed khat for 30 years,” says one Yemeni man in the group meeting that Sunday afternoon. A successful businessman in Addis Ababa, he is smoking cigarettes but not chewing—the only one in the group. “Now I’ve had enough. I don’t miss it.”

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Women and Girls, One Third of World’s Drug Usershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-girls-one-third-of-worlds-drug-users/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 19:17:36 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149308 Despite eradication and education efforts, drug use, especially heroin, remains rampant in parts of Myanmar. Photo: IRIN. Source: United Nations

Despite eradication and education efforts, drug use, especially heroin, remains rampant in parts of Myanmar. Photo: IRIN. Source: United Nations

By IPS World Desk
ROME/VIENNA, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users yet are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, a UN-Backed independent expert body warned.

Citing a significant rise over the past year in the number of women dying from drug overdoses globally, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned that women and girls comprise one-third of global drug users.

“Yet [they] are only one-fifth of those receiving treatment, as significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers affect women’s ability to access substance abuse treatment.”

Further, they are also more likely to be prescribed narcotics and anti-anxiety medication than men, and are thus more likely to abuse these medications, according to the latest INCB report. For example, Germany and Serbia have reported that fatal overdoses from prescription drugs are more frequent among women.

The UN-backed independent expert body, which monitors governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, has called for the implementation of gender-sensitive drug policies and programmes.

Additionally, countries such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have seen larger increases in overdoses, of all substances, among women than among men, it informs.

These are among the key findings in the 2016 Annual Report that the INCB launched on March 2, stressing that Governments should prioritise providing health care for drug-dependent women, in addition to more funding and coordination to prevent and treat drug abuse among women.

“We want to change perceptions and remind people, particularly policymakers, of the importance of protecting the rights of women who use drugs or who have committed drug-related offences and the rights of their families,” said the organisation’s President, Werner Sipp.

The report also highlights the importance of targeting prevention programmes to specific populations, such as prisoners, pregnant women, people living with HIV/AIDS, and sex workers. It also notes that women prisoners and sex workers are at “particular risk” of drug use.

“Countries are also encouraged to seek alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related offences, such as treatment, rehabilitation and social integration.”

The INCB repeated its longstanding call for countries to abolish the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Among its other observations, it noted with “great concern” recent reports in some countries of the targeting of individuals suspected of involvement in drug-related activity, including drug use, who have been subjected to violent acts of reprisal and murder at the hands of law enforcement personnel and members of the civilian population.

In some instances, those acts have been committed with the express or tacit approval, or even encouragement, of political forces and, in many cases, have gone unpunished, said INCB.

It also emphasised that it condemns such practices, including the extrajudicial targeting of persons suspected of drug use, “in the strongest possible terms,” and denounced them as a “serious violation of human rights […] and an affront to the most basic standards of human dignity.”

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New Maternity Legislation in Cuba Ignores Fathershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/new-maternity-legislation-in-cuba-ignores-fathers/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 07:52:51 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149214 A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A Cuban family walks down a street in the neighborhood of Vedado, in the Plaza de La Revolución municipality, in Havana, Cuba, where just 49 per cent of children grow up in households with both parents. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

A new set of regulations to strengthen the maternity rights of working women and encourage people to have children in Cuba were seen as a positive step but not enough, because they do not include measures to encourage more active participation in child-rearing by men.

“These legislative changes promote responsible maternity and paternity,” sociologist Magela Romero, who is about to become a mother, told IPS. “There are still aspects to review to achieve a legal text which reflects from beginning to end its spirit of promoting a culture of equality between parents.”

Against a backdrop of a record low fertility rate and accelerated aging of the population, the authorities published on Feb. 10 two new decree-laws and four statutes that modify the 2003 Law for Working Mothers, which was reformed previously in 2011.

The theme this year of International Women’s Day, celebrated Mar. 8, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, because improving the participation of women in the labour market is seen as essential to achieving equality.

Romero, who is currently studying the father figure in Cuba’s labour legislation, proposed revising even “the most subtle aspects, such as the title of the law itself, which doesn’t mention the working father, and therefore could conceal them as possible beneficiaries.”

In 2003, Cuba placed itself in the forefront in Latin America, passing a law that ensured working fathers one year of parental leave in case they became widowers or were abandoned by the mother.

But in what is seen as a sign of the prevailing sexism in Cuban society, few men have availed themselves of this benefit. The latest figures show that only 125 fathers requested parental leave between 2006 and 2013, in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people.

In response to the low level of involvement by fathers and to address the fact that many children are mainly cared for by their grandmothers, the new regulations also allow working maternal or paternal grandparents to request leave to take care of newborns.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, just 49 per cent of children in Cuba lived with both parents, 38 per cent only lived with their mother (the majority) or their father, while 13 per cent were at the time being cared for by other relatives.

Cuba is the country with the lowest number of children per woman in Latin America – 1.72 in 2015, according to official figures – in a country which since 1978 has had a fertility rate below the replacement level of one daughter per woman, a situation that the region as a whole will not reach until 2050.

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two grandmothers sit with their granddaughters, whom they take care of while their mothers work, on a street in the historic centre of Old Havana, Cuba. Working grandmothers and grandfathers are included in the benefits established by the new regulations to encourage people to have children. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Romero said the new laws acknowledge new developments that have arisen in light of the current economic reforms, such as women having more than one job, and those that make up the growing private sector, who constitute 32 per cent of the 507,342 registered self-employed workers.

For this reason, women who work in the private sector and have two or more children under 17 will pay only 50 percent of the monthly taxes they would otherwise owe. And people with a permit to offer services of childcare, or caring for sick, disabled or elderly people, will also pay half of the monthly tax.

Moreover, women who go back to their public sector jobs before the end of the year of maternity leave continue to draw the monthly stipend of 60 per cent of their salary. And those with two jobs receive maternity payments for each job.

In addition, families with more than two children pay reduced fees, or are even exempt from paying, for public daycare and school meals.

Hundreds of comments on local news websites have urged the authorities to take measures in that direction and have assessed them as positive, for seeking to ease the heavy economic burden that a baby implies in a country in the grip of a virtually chronic economic crisis since 1991, and which is now suffering a new economic downturn.

Having a baby in Cuba “can be economically a tremendously stressful challenge,” said Mayra García, who is expecting at any moment the birth of her first child. It is even hard for her and her husband, who waited to get pregnant until they had their own house, were economically independent and had stable jobs in their professions.

“And few couples our age are able to achieve such economic independence,” the 30-year-old editor, who hopes to have at least two children, told IPS.

She said it was a good thing that new mothers who return to their jobs before the year is up continue to draw their maternity leave stipend. And she called for the expansion and improvement of public childcare services, to help families reconcile family life and work.

“Currently, public childcare centres are unable to keep up with demand,” she said.

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A father settles his son on his horse, as he picks him up from school in a rural community in the central province of Villa Clara, Cuba. The new legislation to stimulate maternity in the country doesn’t pay any attention to fathers, according to experts. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In public daycare centres, monthly fees per child average 40 cuban pesos (1.6 dollars) and vary depending on the family’s income. With differences per region, a private daycare costs about 100 cuban pesos (four dollars) and some exclusive childcare centres in the capital even cost much more and in dollars.

Marybexy Calcerrada and Aida Torralbas, psychologists and gender experts who live in the city of Holguín, 689 km east of Havana, propose creating support mechanisms in the workplace for more specific cases.

“A quota for subsidised purchases of a variety of products to meet the basic needs of infants and adolescents could be considered,” Calcerrada told IPS, urging “continued encouragement of the involvement of men in their role as fathers.”

She believes that “parents should be given quotas of hours for justified absence from work to take care of children in the face of health problems and school needs.”

Studies show that working women in Cuba earn less than men, despite earning equal wages, because they are absent more often from their jobs, to take care of their children and sick and elderly people in their care.

For Torralbas, the new reforms in the legislation “could have been a good opportunity to give fathers a short period of leave after their baby’s birth. In other countries, the father has two weeks of parental leave when his child is born,” she said as an example.

“In Cuba, women and men think it over carefully before having children,” said Frank Alejandro Velázquez. “They are not the same mothers and fathers as 60 years ago. They have been taught to think about minimally adequate, fair social conditions, infused with gender equality, before having a child.”

This young expert of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue- Cuba, in the city of Cárdenas, 150 km east of Havana, also brought up other issues, such as the “social uncertainty” that exists in this country where the government began to reform its socialist system in 2008.

“These measures are just a step forward with respect to previous legislation,” he told IPS.

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Seven Scary Facts About Widening Gender Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/seven-scaring-facts-about-widening-gender-gap/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 06:28:22 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149225 A resident of Rabaable village in Somalia fetches water with the help of her daughters. The villages well was recently rehabilitated by UNICEF. Credit: UNICEF Somalia/Sebastian Rich

A resident of Rabaable village in Somalia fetches water with the help of her daughters. The villages well was recently rehabilitated by UNICEF. Credit: UNICEF Somalia/Sebastian Rich

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Women across the globe are facing new threats, which risk dismantling decades of hard-won rights and derailing the effort to end extreme poverty, an international confederation of civil society organisations has revealed ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.

The renewal of the global gag rule restricting US funding for family planning services is the latest of a number of new threats that will have a huge effect on the world’s poorest women, OXFAM international on March 2 warned in its new report ‘An economy that works for women‘.

It comes as progress towards women’s equality risks going into reverse, something that will make it impossible for world leaders to end extreme poverty by 2030, it adds.

“At current rates, the time it will take to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women stands at 170 years – 52 years longer than it would have done just a year ago. And, over the past five years, donor funding directly to women’s rights organisations has more than halved. All of this risks putting women’s rights in reverse.“
“Women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men,” OECD

On this, the Head of Oxfam’s Even It Up campaign, Deepak Xavier, said that across the world, many of the basic human rights women have secured over the last few decades are at risk.

“Everyone has a part to play in ensuring this rollback on women’s rights does not happen. Recognizing that women and girls are equal to men and boys is crucial in the fight against poverty and inequality.”

The new Oxfam’s report launched on March 2, ‘An economy that works for women‘, outlines the importance of paid work as a vital route out of poverty for women.

Yet gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008 and millions of women around the world continue to face low wages, a lack of decent, secure jobs and a heavy and unequal responsibility for unpaid care work, such as housework and childcare, OXFAM reports.

“Even in countries where the distribution is the most equal, it is estimated that women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men with an estimated global value of 10 trillion dollars per year – more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.”

Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Credit: FAO

Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Credit: FAO

“Studies also show that inequality in economic terms costs women in developing countries 9 trillion dollars a year; a sum that would not only benefit women but would unlock new spending power for their families and produce a boost to the economy as a whole.”

This International Women’s Day, OXFAM calls for people around the world to stand up for women’s equal right to safe, decent, fairly paid work and a world free from the injustice of poverty.

Seven Key Facts

The international aid confederation reports the following facts about the widening gender inequality:

1. Up to 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women according to the International Labour Organization’s ‘Women at Work: Trends 2016’.

2. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 estimates it will now take 170 years to close the 23 per cent global pay gap between men and women and gender inequality in the economy is now back to where it stood in 2008.

3. The global value of women’s unpaid care work each year is estimated at 10 trillion dollars according to McKinsey Global Institute report 2015.

4. The Global GDP in 2015 is estimated by the CIA World Factbook as 75.73 trillion dollars at the official exchange rate.

5. Up to 9 trillion dollars – annual cost of economic inequality to women in developing countries according to Action Aid’s Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work report.

6. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) estimates that women still carry out between two to 10 times more unpaid care work than men: OECD stat Employment: ‘Time spent in paid and unpaid work, by sex.

7. On average in Asia women earn between 70 to 90 per cent of what men earn and carry out around 2.5 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do.

Women still carry out at least twice as much unpaid care work than men, OXFAM reports, adding that the current broken economic model, which is undermining gender equality and causing extreme economic inequality, urges the need for an economy that works for women.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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These Women Cannot Celebrate Their Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:18:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149132 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds that IPS is launching on the occasion of this year's International Women’s Day on March 8.]]> Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

This is a story that one would wish to never have to write—the story of hundreds of millions of life-givers whose production and productivity have systematically been ‘quantified’ in much detailed statistics, but whose abnegation, human suffering and denial of rights are subject to just words.

It is the story of those women who witness their children die while fleeing wars, or are kidnapped to sell their organs, or recruited as child soldiers.

It is the story of those women who fall prey to human traffickers and are sold as sexual slaves. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.)

And it is the story of those women and girls who become victims of abhorrent violence by their male relatives; whose rights as workers are routinely abused by their employers, and are even killed by their partners. (In some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes, according to UN Women).

It is the story of millions of young girls who are forced into inhumane early marriage and pregnancy; of those who are subjected to female genital mutilation. (The UN recognises this practice as a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence–Female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that endure for a lifetime and can even be fatal, reminds the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.)

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

Africa and the Arab region are among those areas where FGM is commonly practised. (The African Union concludes that it is an excruciatingly painful practice that violates basic human rights).

Its impact on young girls and women is multi-faceted and touches various aspects of their lives, including their physical, psychological and social well-being, with scars lingering on for the rest of their lives.

It is the story of millions of girls who have no access to education, and when they have it, most of them flee school because of the lack of sanitary services. (A study by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) covering the years spanning 2009 to 2014 reports thousands of attacks against schools in at least 70 different countries, many of which were targeted for advocating girls’ education.)

It is the story of nearly two-thirds of world’s inhabitants who suffer from lack of proper access to reproductive and maternity health care services. (The UN Population Fund stresses that universal access to reproductive health affects and is affected by many aspects of life. It involves individuals’ most intimate relationships, including negotiation and decision-making within these relationships, and interactions with health providers regarding contraceptive methods and options.)

Credit: UNODC

Credit: UNODC

It is also the story of very young girls who are abducted by terror groups to brutally satiate their sexual appetites and blackmailing, such as has been the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

And it is the story of those indigenous women who care for whatever remains of their lands, which guard 80 per cent of world’s biodiversity, but whose rights and ancestral knowledge are ignored and even disdained.

It is the story of those women farmers who produce up to 80 per cent of food but have no right to own their land, to agricultural inputs, resources or small credits.

And of those millions of domestic workers whose rights were lately acknowledged – though not sufficiently applied.

And it is the story of a flagrant growing inequality. (OXFAM estimates that, at current trend, it will take women 170 years to be paid the same as men are…Let alone the fact that half of world’s health is in the pockets of just eight individuals—all of them men).

This year’s International Women’s Day will be marked on March 8 under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50by 2030”.

The United Nations says that it will be “a time to reflect on progress made, to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the long awaited goals of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”

The world body has set some key targets of that 2030 Agenda:

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

• End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

• Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

• Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The United Nations also notes that the world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. “We have globalisation, technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring, and on the other hand, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.”

All these words and good wishes sound great.

Yet International Women’s Day will represent, above all, another slap in the face of humankind who is still unable (unwilling?) to duly, effectively honour those who gave them life.

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Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:07:19 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149065 Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report.

Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, issued on Feb. 22, 2017.

“Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded.”

As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.

At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food — a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. “Climate change will affect every aspect of food production,” the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.

Zero Hunger?

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.

The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require “major transformations.”

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

According to the report, without a push to invest in and retool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.

“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.

Where Will Our Food Come From?

Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.

However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.

To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

More With Less

The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.

“For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities — especially agriculture and in rural economies — to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor. “

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.

This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.

Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets — along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.

On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director General for Economics and Social Development, said a media briefing, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture, said that it is climate change. “This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change.”

Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document incudes.

Top Trends and Challenges

The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:

15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.

10 Challenges:

• _Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Latin America Is a Leading Influence in the Global Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/latin-america-in-the-vanguard-of-global-fight-against-hunger/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 20:09:48 +0000 Orlando Milesi and Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148916 Children eat lunch at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a community where most children live in poverty, but thanks to the synergy between family farming and school meals, they have managed to eliminate malnutrition among the student body. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children eat lunch at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a community where most children live in poverty, but thanks to the synergy between family farming and school meals, they have managed to eliminate malnutrition among the student body. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Orlando Milesi and Mario Osava
SANTIAGO/RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

A model for fighting against hunger and malnutrition with a global reach which has been successful within and outside the region has spread worldwide, first from Brazil and then from Latin America, notes a distinction given to the current Director-General of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), José Graziano da Silva.

Graziano was included in the 2016 ranking of “Global Latin Americans” with influence at a global level, drawn up by the international edition of the journal AméricaEconomía, along with Pope Francis from Argentina, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, microfinance pioneer María Otero, who was born in Bolivia, famous Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Mexican-born journalist Jorge Ramos and Venezuelan poet Rafael Cárdenas, among others.

“He has been one of the most steadfast advocates of food security, working on the whole issue of rural life, which is why we put him on the list,” the journal’s director of digital media, Lino Solís de Ovando, told IPS.

AméricaEconomía, an international journal that is published in Santiago and which also has eight national or subregional editions as well as a large digital platform, seeks with this “unprecedented ranking to provide a list of the 25 most influential men and women,” he said. Not all of them are “in the front row,” but they are all “people who truly generate global change” with their activities, he said.

Graziano, director-general of FAO since 2012, a post he will hold until 2019 after he was reelected for a second term in 2015, led the team that designed Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” programme, which gave rise to a new global model.

“The recognition of people is an acknowledgment of the ideas and the causes to which they devote their lives. In this case, it is a recognition of rural development and the fight against hunger in Latin America and worldwide,” Graziano said on Thursday Feb. 9, referring to his inclusion on the list of Latin Americans with the greatest global influence.

Named special minister of food security and the fight against hunger (2003-2006) during the first years of the presidency of leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), “Graziano played a decisive role in coming up with strategies to combat hunger, combining structural and emergency actions,” the executive director of ActionAid International, Adriano Campolina, told IPS.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the fifth Celac Summit, in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Credit: FAO

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the fifth Celac Summit, in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Credit: FAO

“His efforts translated into loans to family farmers, improved school feeding and income transfer policies, among other initiatives,” Campolina said from the humanitarian organisation’s headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to Campolina, in his strategy Graziano “had the wisdom to identify in society effective and liberating ways to fight hunger,” translating them into public policies and “recognising that many solutions lay in the successful initiatives carried out by social movements and non-governmental organisations.”

Graziano was in charging of setting in motion “the most important programme in Lula’s administration, Zero Hunger, which had the full acceptance of all segments of Brazilian society, even the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT),” said Frei Betto, who helped design and launch the programme, as special adviser to the president.

“Zero Hunger comprised more than 60 complementary and empowering programmes, including agrarian reform, unionisation, family agriculture, and rainwater harvesting others,” said the well-known Catholic writer, who is also an adviser to different social movements.

Its administration was in the hands of “civil society organised in Management Committees, which were created in more than 2,500 municipalities, half of Brazil, during Graziano’s term of office,” said Betto.

But in 2004 the government decided to focus its efforts on cash transfers, through Bolsa Familia, “which was compensatory in nature”. That led to Betto’s resignation, while Graziano became adviser to the president, until he was named FAO’s regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2006.

The replacement of Zero Hunger with Bolsa Familia, which provided direct subsidies, was due to pressure from municipal authorities who wanted to control the lists of beneficiaries for electoral purposes, said Betto.

“Fortunately, Graziano was recognised internationally, elected and re-elected as head of FAO, to take the initiative and experience of Zero Hunger to other countries,” he said.

“At FAO, Graziano had the political courage to recognise the key role played by small-scale family agriculture, women farmers, agroecology and sustainable agriculture in eradicating hunger,” said Campolina.

Recognising these tendencies, instead of prioritising large-scale agriculture and transnational corporations that abuse toxic agrochemicals, is “the paradigm shift that makes it possible to combat the structural causes of hunger,” he said.

“Graziano’s leadership strengthened the fight for access to land and sustainability and boosted family farmers, who produce 80 per cent of the world’s food,” said ActionAid’s executive director.

Economist Francisco Menezes, a former president of Brazil’s National Council of Food and Nutritional Security (2003-2007), stressed that “one of Graziano’s legacies is being able to get Brazil, Latin America and the world to give priority to the goal of food security.”

Graziano himself expressed hope at the fifth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), held in January, that “Latin America and the Caribbean could become the first developing region to fully eradicate hunger.”

For this to happen, Menezes said, governments must reinforce the implementation of the Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan developed by Celac with FAO support, whose goal is to put an end to the problem in the region by 2025.

Solís de Ovando also underscored FAO’s focus, during Graziano’s administration, on the issue of obesity and overweight, which affect 360 million people in the region, according to a study released by the organisation in January.

In its “Global Latin Americans” 2016 ranking, AméricaEconomía also highlighted the efforts made by the head of FAO in South-South cooperation and the exchange of solutions and experiences between countries of the different regions of the Global South, with the goal of achieving food security and sustainable development.

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