Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:43:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 The Soil, Silent Ally Against Hunger in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:41:31 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138346 The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO , Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

Latin America and the Caribbean should use sustainable production techniques to ensure healthy soil, the basic element in agriculture, food production and the fight against hunger.

“Keeping the soil healthy makes food production possible,” said Raúl Benítez, regional director for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “Without good soil, food production is undermined, and becomes more difficult and costly.”

“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil,” he said in an interview with Tierramérica.

Despite its importance, 33 percent of the planet’s soil is degraded by physical, chemical or biological causes, which is reflected in a reduction in plant cover, soil fertility, and pollution of the soil and water, and which leads to impoverished harvests, FAO warns.

Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest amount of potential arable land in the world.“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil.” -- Raúl Benítez

The worst degradation of soil is in Central America and southern Mexico, where it affects 26 percent of the land. In South America that proportion is 14 percent.

According to FAO statistics, four countries account for more than 40 percent of the degraded land in the region, and in 14 countries between 20 and 40 percent of the national territory is affected by degradation.

Forty percent of the most degraded land is in parts of the world with high poverty rates.

On Dec. 5, FAO launched the International Year of Soils 2015 as part of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with the world’s governments and the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

Latin America “is highly aware of the fundamental role played by the soil in the fight against hunger, which means it takes this issue extremely seriously,” Benítez said in the central FAO offices in Santiago.

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

He pointed out that Latin America has made the most progress in achieving food security, as the region in the world with the greatest number of countries that have met the hunger target of the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – a series of anti-poverty targets agreed by governments in 2000.

According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report, the proportion of people suffering from hunger in the region fell from 15.3 percent in 1990-1992 to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

“For that reason, I don’t have the slightest doubt that this International Year of Soils will help draw the attention of governments, organisations and the population, and Latin America is sure to assume a commitment and act in accordance with the region’s needs,” he said.

The regional FAO office has forged alliances with a variety of social organisations working to restore the soil.

In Chile, one of them is the Centro Comunal de Medio Ambiente Naturaleza Viva, an environmental organisation of the municipality of Estación Central, on the west side of Santiago.

Community organiser María Contreras, the president of the centre, led the struggle to recover 40 hectares from the old garbage dump of Lo Errázuriz, in the municipality of Maipú, also to the west of Santiago, where all of the municipalities of the Chilean capital dumped their trash in the 1970s and 1980s.

“That’s where the dump was, it was the Fundo San José de Chuchunco dump, and in some parts they would extract materials [rocks, gravel, sand, etc],” Contreras told Tierramérica.

The government of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago owns 30 hectares of the land, and the rest belongs to the municipality of Estación Central.

“We now have 10 hectares that have been restored, with trees planted, and the regional government has hired security and irrigation services,” said the community leader, who explained that the plan is to extend the green forested area to another 20 hectares, with walking and bike paths.

The area is now called the Forests of Chuchunco, a word that means “between the waters” in the Mapuche indigenous language.

“This experience arose out of a need for survival,” said Contreras, who pointed out that 30 years ago, “Maipú supplied Santiago with fresh vegetables.”

Two years ago, FAO financed the construction of a small greenhouse there, “and today we produce seeds,” she said.

The project got underway in 2010. But to extend the reforestation effort, studies are needed to investigate what lies under the surface – presumably biogas or leachate.

“Without soil we would all die,” the activist said. “The life we don’t see is below ground.”

Contreras called for strengthening social networks and citizen participation to protect the soil, and stressed the need for environmental education in schools to make projects like the Forests of Chuchunco sustainable.

“We want children to have basic education on the environment so they will be responsible citizens tomorrow,” she said.

Another example is the Vermiculture Research and Development Centre (Ceilom), which seeks to promote and expand worm farming by creating a culture of household recycling of organic material.

The centre was founded in 1980 when the first red Californian earth worms (Eisenia foetida) were brought to Chile. The centre offers vermiculture courses with the aim of reducing the amount of garbage and recycling 100 percent of organic material produced in a household, which averages 700 kg a year for a family of four.

“We currently have an agreement with a vegetable market in Recoleta [north of Santiago] to recover and treat their waste. And this kind of arrangement could be made with many street markets,” the head of Ceilom, Marcela Campos, told Tierramérica.

She also cited the Santiago Metropolitan Park, a “green lung” in the middle of the city, which houses the zoo and “produces so much waste that could be treated.”

“That way it would not need to use chemical fertilisers to restore its green areas, for example,” she said.

Today, at a global level, 12 percent of land is used for crops, a total of 1.6 trillion hectares, which means “we have to redouble efforts and preserve our soil using production techniques that make it possible to conserve our natural resources,” Benítez said.

Sustainable soil is “a silent ally” in the erradication of hunger, he concluded.
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Economy Sees Growth at Top But No ‘Trickle-Down’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 23:03:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138313 David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit.

He says that inputs cost too much and if this trend continues he will sub-divide and sell his five hectares.

This is the story of many small-scale farmers in this East African nation, where agriculture accounts for about one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But small-scale farmers – accounting for about 75 percent of total agricultural produce – barely break even.

“A 150 kg bag of carrot is now going for about 27 dollars, up from 22 dollars, but as prices go up, so does the cost of inputs,” says Kamau.“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times” – Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi pro-poor social movement

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet agriculture fails to provide an adequate return to farmers because their sector is significantly underfunded, explains Jason Braganza, an economic analyst based in Nairobi.

The percentage of the budget for the agricultural sector is 2.4 percent, down 0.6 percent from the 3 percent in the 2012/2013 budget and well below the threshold of the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which mandated that at least 10 percent the national budget should be allocated to agriculture.

The result, says Kamau, is that “farmers are slowly moving out of the farms and trying other economic ventures, Central Kenya used to be a breadbasket but farmlands are being replaced by residential and commercial complexes.”

Farming is not the only sector feeling an economic downslide. Small businesses in Kenya are faced with a lack of essential business support services, especially financial services. Two-thirds of Kenyans do not have access to basic financial services such as banking accounts.

“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times,” according to Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi [People’s Parliament] pro-poor social movement.

She says that the group is planning to hold the government responsible regarding the use of the information in the ‘Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya’ which the government released last month. The report exposes significant disparities in poverty levels across the country.

“The Atlas is a powerful tool, but whether the government will use the information to change lives and improve living standards remains to be seen,” she says.

Felix Omondi, a resident of Kibera, a division of Nairobi considered the largest slum in Africa, and a member of the Unga Revolution, a local activist group, is one of those who believes that the Atlas is doing some good.

He told IPS that that a programme is under way to upgrade slums and said that this is “one of the ways that the government is using the Atlas to improve the lives of people in the slums.”

In the last three months, the government has been working with residents of the slums to establish income-generating projects and provide basic amenities such as toilets, lighting and drainage.

At least 3,000 youths in Kibera will benefit from these projects. Omondi, a beneficiary, says that he is running one of the posho (corn meal) mills set up by the government to generate income.

Kenya now officially a “middle-income country”

Meanwhile, in autumn the news came out that Kenya had seen its economy grow 25 percent after statistical revision and is now officially a “middle-income country”. A few months ago, a similar type of revision brought Nigeria’s economy to the top of African countries in terms of the size of the economy, surpassing South Africa for the first time.

A growing middle class population is an important driver of this growth, but what does that middle class look like? The recently revised Kenyan figures indicate that the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is 1,160 dollars against the World Bank’s “middle income” threshold of 1,036 dollars.

The latest income-distribution indicators for Kenya (which date back to 2005) show the following:

  • 45.9 percent of the population was at the national poverty line;
  • The income share held by the top 10 percent was 38 percent.

This out-of-date, official information excludes the informal economy, observes Africa Arino, professor of strategic management at the IESE Business School in Spain.

“A taxi driver makes KES 15,000 a month (about 178 dollars or 132 euro), and pays KES 3,500 (close to 25 percent of his income) to rent a room where he lives with his wife and two children,” Arino explains.

“They don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom: these are facilities shared with others in the same building lot. His income is pretty much the average salary of a driver, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2014. Is he middle class?”

According to Braganza, one of the main challenges facing Kenya is that while the country’s economic growth is real and sustainable, the structure of the economy has remained unchanged. Resources have not shifted into the most productive sectors of the economy which would increase overall productivity and an increase in remunerative employment.

Braganza says that for people to feel the trickledown effect of the economic growth, there must also be structural transformation. “There is a need for more investment in the more productive sectors, as well as investment in emerging sectors. This will contribute towards a reduction in unemployment and poverty.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cuba’s Reforms Fail to Reduce Growing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:21:58 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138300 Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality.

Inequality has been growing since the start of the crisis triggered by the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. The “special period” – the euphemistic term used to refer to the lengthy recession – “has even morally affected the concept of inequality,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS.

To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel Castro (1959-2008) opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality.: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.” -- Cuban schoolteacher

However, María Caridad González appreciates the sense of equality that still exists in Cuban society, which she says has made social inclusion possible for her 10-year-old son, who knows that “to do well in life he just has to study and become a professional.”

Since the 1959 revolution, free universal healthcare coverage and education have been important tools for achieving social equality in Cuba.

González, who comes from a family of small farmers, moved to Havana in the mid-1990s. “It was hard at first. There were shortages of everything, but I stayed anyway and got married here. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, and what is lacking is money to buy things,” said the 36-year-old, who works in the cleaning service at a company that is partly foreign owned.

Other people are worse off than González, who manages to add to her monthly income working as a domestic in the homes of families she knows, which brings her another 80 CUC – the Cuban peso convertible to dollars – or 1,920 pesos.

That is more than four times the average public sector salary of 470 pesos (19 dollars) a month. “Thanks to my income we survived the months when my husband, who is a cook in the tourism industry, was out of work,” said González.

She is in a much better position than her neighbor, a 55-year-old primary schoolteacher who earns 750 pesos a month and has no source of dollars or other foreign currency – a mainstay for many Cuban families, who receive remittances from relatives abroad or who work in tourism, where they earn tips.

The teacher, who is married and has two adult children aged 20 and 25, told IPS: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.”

The inequality gap has widened as the differences in incomes have grown.

Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba.

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

However, Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system, and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles, and were key to Cuba’s ranking in 44th place on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) this year.

The HDI is a composite index that measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.”

Morales agrees with the government’s aim of “equal rights and opportunities” rather than egalitarianism. In his view, the distribution of income based on work is still unequal. “It would be ethical if people received in accordance with what they contributed, and those who needed assistance would receive it through social spending, to balance out the inequalities,” he argued.

The academic defends the idea of subsidising specific people rather than products, which is still being done through the ration card system that distributes a certain quantity of foodstuffs at prices subsidised by the state, to all citizens, regardless of their income.

The system covered the basic dietary needs of families until the 1980s. But that is no longer the case, and Cubans now have to complete their diet with products sold in the hard currency stores and the farmers’ markets, where one pound (450 grams) of pork can cost 40 pesos (1.60 dollars) – the same price fetched by a pound of onions at certain times of the year.

In its 2014-2020 pastoral plan, the Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.”

That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals.

After acknowledging that the expansion of opportunities for self-employment and for setting up cooperatives in non-agricultural sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for some, the church warns that the current economic reforms “have failed to reactivate the economy in such a way that it benefits the entire population.”

Not all segments of society are in equal conditions to take advantage of the changes that have been ushered in. Researchers like Morales or Mayra Espina say women, people who are not white, and young people are at a disadvantage, whether due to a lack of formal training and education, or of assets and resources for starting up their own businesses.

According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher, and they say decision-makers need to know the exact percentage in order to properly tailor social policies to the actual situation.

But Espina and other academics say the reforms approved in April 2011 do not put a high enough priority on social aspects, ignore the questions of poverty and inequality, and contain weak measures for guaranteeing equality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CORRECTION/Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138277 Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*The story that moved on Dec. 15 misstated the matter of statutory rape in the Philippines. Child rights advocates are recommending that the age be raised from 12. The government has responded positively to it and legislation on the matter is ongoing. Likewise, the advocates would also like to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised higher than the current 15.

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Lima Agrees Deal – but Leaves Major Issues for Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/#comments Sun, 14 Dec 2014 19:00:14 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138275 As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 14 2014 (IPS)

After a 25-hour extension, delegates from 195 countries reached agreement on a “bare minimum” of measures to combat climate change, and postponed big decisions on a new treaty until the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), to be held in a year’s time in Paris.

After 13 days of debates, COP 20, the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), failed to resolve key issues such as the monitoring of each country’s commitment to emissions reductions, recognition of loss and damage caused by climate alterations and immediate actions, representatives of observer organisations told IPS.

The agreed document was the third draft to be debated. The Lima Call for Climate Action, as it is known, stipulates that countries must propose national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by October 2015.

It also “urges” developed countries to “provide and mobilise financial support for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions” to countries affected by climate change, and “invites” them to pledge financial contributions alongside their emissions reduction targets. This exhortation was a weak response to the demands of countries that are most vulnerable to global warming, and it avoided complete disaster.

But observers complained that the Lima Call pays little attention to the most vulnerable populations, like farmers, coastal communities, indigenous people, women and the poorest sectors of societies.

“There were a number of trade-offs between developed and developing countries, and the rest of the text has become significantly weaker in terms of the rules for next year and how to bring climate change action and ambitions next year,” Sven Harmeling, the climate change advocacy coordinator for Care International, told IPS. “That has been most unfortunate,” he said.

The 2015 negotiations will be affected, as “they are building up more pressure on Paris. The bigger issues have been pushed forward and haven’t been addressed here,” he said.

Harmeling recognised that an agreement has been reached, although it is insufficient. “We have something, but the legal status of the text is still unclear,” he said. If there is really a “spirit of Lima” and not just a consensus due to exhaustion, it will begin to emerge in February in Geneva, at the next climate meeting, he predicted.

The countries of the South voted in favour of the text at around 01:30 on Sunday Dec. 14, but organisations like Oxfam, the Climate Action Network and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) were very critical of the result. The Lima negotiations “have done nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change,” according to FoEI. “What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path.” -- Tasneem Essop

More than 3,000 delegates met Dec. 1-13 for the complex UNFCCC process, with the ultimate goal of averting global warming to levels that would endanger life on Earth.
Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the COP 20, extended the meeting in order to build bridges between industrialised countries, the largest carbon emitters, who wanted less financial pressure, and developing countries who sought less control over their own reductions.

“Although we seem to be on opposite sides, we are in fact on the same side, because there is only one planet,” said Pulgar-Vidal at the close of the COP.

The specific mandate in Lima was to prepare a draft for a new, binding climate treaty, to be consolidated during 2015 and signed in Paris. Methodological discussions and fierce debates about financing, deadlines and loss and damage prevented a more ambitious consensus.

“What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path,” Tasneem Essop, climate coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told IPS.

“We need to protect the rights of climate impacted communities,” she said. The defencelessness of the most vulnerable people on the planet is what makes action a matter of urgency.

However, the Lima agreement contains few references to mechanisms for countries to use to reduce their emissions between 2015 and 2020, when the new treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol is due to come into force.

These actions need to start immediately, said Essop, as later measures may be ineffective. “What governments seem to be thinking is that they can do everything in the future, post 2020, when the science is clear that we have to peak before that,” she told IPS.

Unless action is taken, year by year extreme climate, drought and low agricultural yields will be harder on those communities, which bear the least responsibility for climate change. Essop believes that governments are waiting for the negotiations in Paris, when there were urgent decisions to be taken in Lima.

Among the loose ends that will need to be tied in the French capital between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11, 2015, are the balance to be struck between mitigation and adaptation in the new global climate treaty, and how it will be financed.

“If we hadn’t come to the decision we have taken (the Lima Call for Climate Action), thing would be more difficult in Paris, but as we know there are still many things to be decided bewteen here and December 2015, in orden to resolve pending issues,” Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said in the closing plenary session.

The goal of the agreement is for global temperature to increase no more than two degrees Celsius by 2100, in order to preserve planetary stability. Reduction of fossil fuel use is essential to achieve this.

Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are the pillars of the new treaty. The last two issues are vital for countries and populations disproportionately impacted by climate change, but faded from the agenda in Lima.

“It’s disastrous and it doesn’t meet our expectations at all. We wanted to see a template clearly emerging from Lima, leading to a much more ambitious deal,” said Harjeet Singh, manager for climate change and resilience for the international organisation ActionAid.

“What we are seeing here is a continuous pushback from developed countries on anything related to adaptation or loss and damage,” he told IPS.

These are thorny issues because they require financial commitments from rich countries. The Green Climate Fund, set up to counter climate change in developing countries, has only received 10.2 billion dollars by this month, only one-tenth of the amount promised by industrialised nations.

The Lima Call for Climate Action did determine the format for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), for each country to present its emissions reduction targets.

However, the final agreement eliminated mechanisms for analysing the appropriateness and adequacy of the targets that were contained in earlier drafts.

Negotiators feel that the sum of the national contributions will succeed in halting global warming, but observers are concerned that the lack of regulation will prevent adequate monitoring of whether emissions reductions on the planet are sufficient.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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AIDS Response Is Leaving African Men Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 22:13:34 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138253 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/feed/ 2 Glaciers and Fruit Dying in Peru with no Response from COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:14:06 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138248 Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Snow-capped mountains may become a thing of the past in Peru, which has 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. And farmers in these ecosystems are having a hard time adapting to the higher temperatures, while the governments of 195 countries are wrapping up the climate change talks in Lima without addressing this situation facing the host country.

Some 100 km from a glacier that refuses to die – the Salkantay mountain in the department of Cuzco – there is a monument to passion fruit, which hundreds of local farmers depend on for a living, and which they will no longer be able to plant 20 years from now, according to projections.

The monument, which is in the main square in the town of Santa Teresa, near the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, shows a woman picking the fruit and farmers carrying it on their backs, cutting the weeds, and hoeing.“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible.” -- Fernando Chiock

That scene frozen in time reflects real life in Santa Teresa, where passion fruit (Passiflora ligularis) grows between 2,000 and 2,800 metres above sea level. But due to the rising temperatures, farmers will have to move up the slopes. And once they reach 3,000 metres above sea level, they won’t be able to plant passion fruit anymore.

“There is a strong impact in this area because the locals depend on the cultivation of passion fruit for their livelihoods,” environmental engineer Karim Quevedo, who has frequently visited the Santa Teresa microbasin as the head of the agro-meteorology office of Peru’s national weather service, Senamhi, told IPS.

That microbasin is one of the areas studied by Senamhi as part of a project of adaptation by local populations to the impact of glacier retreat. The glacier that is dying next to the town of Santa Teresa is Salkantay, which in the Quechua indigenous language means “wild mountain”.

Salkantay, at the heart of the Vilcabamba range, supplies water to local rivers. But in the last 40 years the glacier has lost nearly 64 percent of its surface area, equivalent to some 22 sq km, according to the National Water Authority (ANA).

“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible,” the head of the climate change area in ANA, Fernando Chiock, told IPS.

Both Chiock and Quevedo said it was crucial to take into account the direct effects on the local population and to prioritise funding to mitigate the impacts, at the end of the COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – whose final phase was attended by leaders and senior officials from 195 countries.

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

COP20, which began Dec. 1, was scheduled to end Friday, but is likely to stretch to Saturday.

“What is yet to be seen is how to bring what is agreed at this climate summit to the ground in local areas. One of the challenges is to form connections between the big treaties,” Quevedo told IPS in Voices for the Climate, an event held near the military base in Lima, known as El Pentagonito, where COP20 is being held.

The outlook is alarming, experts say. Since the 1970s, the surface area of the 2,679 glaciers in Peru’s Andes mountains has shrunk over 40 percent, from more than 2,000 sq km to 1,300 sq km, said Chiock.

Some glaciers have already completely disappeared, such as Broggi, which formed part of the Cordillera Blanca, the tropical mountain range with the greatest density of glaciers in the world, which like the Vilcabamba range forms part of the Andes mountains.

Around 50 years ago, Broggi was retreating at a rate of two metres a year, but in the 1980s and 1990s the pace picked up to 20 metres a year.

In 2005, monitoring of the mountain stopped because the surface of the glacier, equivalent to signs of life in a human being, disappeared completely.

Today, glacial retreat in Peru ranges between nine and 20 metres a year, according to ANA. At the same time, the melt-off has given rise to nearly 1,000 new high-altitude lakes, Chiock said.

In the short-term, the appearance of new lakes could sound like good news for local populations. But according to the ANA expert, these new sources of water must be properly managed, to avoid generating false expectations in the communities and to manage the risks posed by the lakes, from ruptured dikes.

Chiock explained that safety works are currently in progress at 35 lakes that pose a risk.

There is a sense of uncertainty in rural areas. New lakes appearing, glaciers dying, hailstorms destroying the maize crop, unpredictable rainfall patterns, heavy rains that affect the potato crop, intense sunshine that rots fruit, insects that hover like bubbles over a boiling pot.

“The climate patterns have changed,” Quevedo said. “You can’t generalise about what is happening; each town or village faces its own problems. But what is undeniable is that the climate has changed.”

Some crops have been affected more than others. With the high temperatures, potatoes have to be planted at higher altitudes because they need cold nights to flourish. In some areas, coffee benefits from intense sunshine, but in others the plants suffer because they also need shade.

The influence of the climate on crops is 61 percent, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

“These minor climate events are the ones that cause the greatest damage to the population, and they are the most invisible to the international community,” Maarten Van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, who took part in the COP20, told IPS.

He said it shouldn’t take a hurricane sweeping away entire harvests, like in Haiti in January 2010, for governments to sit up and take notice.

But hopes are melting that they will do so before COP20 comes to an end here in Lima.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Change Creates New Geography of Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 13:10:00 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138236 Cándido Menzúa Salazar, national coordinator of the indigenous peoples of Panama, addressed the audience at the Global Landscapes Forum, the largest side event at COP 20 in Lima, on how climate change altered his agroforestry practices. Credit: Audry Córdova/COP20 Lima

Cándido Menzúa Salazar, national coordinator of the indigenous peoples of Panama, addressed the audience at the Global Landscapes Forum, the largest side event at COP 20 in Lima, on how climate change altered his agroforestry practices. Credit: Audry Córdova/COP20 Lima

By Fabiola Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

The magnitude of the climate changes brought about by global warming and the alterations in rainfall patterns are modifying the geography of food production in the tropics, warned participants at the climate summit in the Peruvian capital.

That was the main concern among experts in food security taking part in the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held Dec. 1-12 in Lima. They are worried about rising food prices if tropical countries fail to take prompt action to adapt.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI estimates that climate change will trigger food price hikes of up to 30 percent.

The countryside is the first sector directly affected by climate change, said Andy Jarvis, a researcher at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who specialises in low-carbon farming in the CGIAR Research Programme for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

“Climate and agriculture go hand in hand and it’s the climate that defines whether a crop will do well or poorly. The geography of where crops grow is going to change, and the impacts can be extremely negative if nothing is done,” Jarvis told Tierramérica during the Global Landscapes Forum, the biggest parallel event to the COP20.

Crops like coffee, cacao and beans are especially vulnerable to drastic temperatures and scarce rainfall and can suffer huge losses as a result of changing climate patterns.

One example: In the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, where the greatest biodiversity of potatoes can be found, higher temperatures and spreading crop diseases and pests are forcing indigenous farmers to grow potatoes at higher and higher altitudes. Potato farmers in the area could see a 15 to 30 percent reduction in rainfall by 2030, according to ClimateWire.

Another illustration: In Central American countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, a fungus called coffee rust is decimating crops.

The outbreak has already caused one billion dollars in losses in Central America in the last two years, and 53 percent of coffee plantations in the area are at risk, according to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).

Latin America produces 13 percent of the world’s cacao and there is an international effort to preserve diversity of the crop in the Americas from witches’ broom disease, which can also be aggravated by extreme climate conditions.

At the same time, switching to cacao can be a strategy for coffee farmers when temperatures are not favourable to coffee production, according to the CGIAR consortium of international agricultural research centres.

Regina Illamarca and Natividad Pilco, two farmers preserving potato biodiversity in Huama, a community in the department of Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes, and whose crops are being altered by global warming. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Regina Illamarca and Natividad Pilco, two farmers preserving potato biodiversity in Huama, a community in the department of Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes, and whose crops are being altered by global warming. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

“At the COP, the idea discussed is to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, as the most optimistic goal,” Jarvis told Tierramérica. “But that practically implies the total displacement of the coffee-growing zone. Two degrees will be too hot. The current trends indicate that prices are going to soar. As production drops and supply shrinks, prices go up. The impact would also lead to a rise in poverty.”

In Nicaragua, where coffee is a pillar of the economy, a two degree increase in temperatures would lead to the loss of 80 percent of the current coffee-growing area, he said.

According to a CIAT study, “by 2050 coffee growing areas will move approximately 300 metres up the altitudinal gradient and push farmers at lower altitudes out of coffee production, increase pressure on forests and natural resources in higher altitudes and jeopardise the actors along the coffee supply chain.”

As the climate heats up, crops that now grow at a maximum altitude of 1,600 metres will climb even higher, which would affect the subsistence of half a million small farmers and agricultural workers, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas said at COP20 that climate change is already endangering the food security, incomes and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families.

“Resilient agriculture is more environmental because it doesn’t use nitrogenous fertilisers. But no matter how much we do, there are systemic limits. We could reach a limit as to how much agriculture can adapt,” he told Tierramérica.

Rojas called for an integral focus on landscapes in the context of climate change, to confront the challenge of ensuring adequate nutrition for the 805 million chronically malnourished people around the world. However, agricultural production will at the same time have to rise 60 percent to meet demand.

The executive director of the U.S.-based Earth Innovation Institute, Daniel Nepstad, noted that the largest proportion of land available for food production is in the tropics.

“The growth in demand for food, especially, in the emerging economies is going to outpace the rise in production. The countries in the world with the greatest potential are in Latin America,” said Nepstad, who added that the innovations to mitigate the impact of climate change on food are happening mainly outside the scope of the UNFCCC.

The director general of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Peter Holmgren, said agroforestry is an approach that reconciles agriculture, forest conservation and food production without generating greenhouse gas emissions.

“The main reason forests are disappearing in this region is agriculture, it is the expansion of commercial agriculture,” he told Tierramérica. “We have a lot of research going on that seeks more resilient and more producing varieties of different crops and livestock. We call it climate-smart agriculture. There is a lot of political commitment to reduce deforestation and direct the investments in agriculture in different ways. However it seems that agriculture is still outside the negotiations in the COP itself.”

As well as agroforestry techniques, agricultural weather report services with forecasts of up to four to six months are ways to contribute to adaptation to changing climate patterns.

CIAT’s Jarvis argued for the need for the diversification of crops and the increase in support with policies to support agriculture.

This article was originally published by the Latin American network of newspapers Tierramérica.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pushing for Gender Equity at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:54:28 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138220 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/feed/ 2 OPINION: The Role of the Media and Visibility for Malnutrition Around the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:02:54 +0000 Mario Lubetkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138195

In this column, Mario Lubetkin, Director of Corporate Communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), writes that the Second International Conference on Nutrition received widespread media coverage around the world and that they continue to have an important role to play in ensuring that medium- and short-term nutrition challenges are met.

By Mario Lubetkin
ROME, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

The vast international and national media impact of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21, demonstrated the growing interest that nutritional problems are arousing worldwide, primarily because the media themselves are increasingly reporting issues related to poverty and exclusion.

Thousands of articles in leading newspapers from different countries of the world, numerous television reports and substantial social media activity focused on ICN2, jointly held by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), 22 years after the first international nutrition conference, also in Rome.

Global representation was ensured through participation by more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers as the leading actors responsible for nutrition-related matters in their respective countries.

Mario Lubetkin

Mario Lubetkin

With a policy document and a framework for action containing over 60 points, adopted by consensus and applicable at national and international levels, this conference completed one phase and launched another whose results will be seen in the years to come.

Unlike other international meetings of this nature, this time the media highlighted the interventions of keynote speakers and the final documents, but more importantly continued to publish information and thought pieces on nutrition for some weeks following the conference.

Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike.

Countless experts brought to the fore the inherent existing contradiction of having 800 million people suffering from hunger (albeit 200 million fewer than 20 years ago), while 500 million adults are suffering from obesity. The seriousness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the number of the latter is still rising and is resulting in serious health risks for the population at large.“Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike”

Suffice it to say that 42 million children are overweight, while malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of infant mortality.

Statistics indicate that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are the cause of 10 percent of deaths and permanent disability cases.

Over two billion people, or approximately one-third of all humanity, suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

The problem among children under five years of age is particularly distressing because 51 million suffer from wasting, or low weight for height, which in turn results in higher mortality from infectious diseases. Moreover, 161 million children in that particular age group also suffer from growth retardation.

Malnutrition also has high economic costs. Recent studies have indicated that malnutrition hunger, micro-nutrient deficiency and obesity result in annual costs of between 2.8 and 3.5 trillion dollars, or 4-5 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). The per capita cost is estimated to be 400-500 dollars per year.

In his speech during the International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis said that “when solidarity is lacking in one country, it is felt around the world.”

Despite there being enough food for everyone, food issues are subject to manipulated information, corruption, claims regarding national security, or “teary-eyed evocations of economic crisis”, the Pontiff said. “That is the first challenge we need to overcome”, he asserted as he called for the rights of all human beings to be uppermost in all development assistance programmes.

The Pope also stressed the need to respect the environment and protect the planet. “Humans may forgive, but nature does not”, he argued, adding that “we must take care of Mother Nature, so that she does not respond with destruction”. In this way, he linked the debates on nutrition with the ongoing International Conference on Climate Change in Lima, Peru (Dec. 1-12).

However, despite the breadth of international coverage, it is noteworthy that the leading media did not fully analyse the conference’s Framework for Action, which essentially sets the course for gradual resolution of nutrition’s major challenges.

The Framework for Action proposes the enhancement of political commitments, promotion of national nutrition plans incorporating the different food security and nutrition stakeholders, an increase in responsible investment, the fostering of inter-country collaboration, whether it be North-South or South-South, and the strengthening of nutrition governance.

The Framework also recommends measures to achieve sustainable food systems, revise national policies and investments, promote crop diversification, upgrade technology, develop and adopt international guidelines on healthy diets, and encourage gradual reductions in consumption of saturated fats, sugar, salt or sodium.

The chapter on communications suggests the conduct of social marketing campaigns and lifestyle-change communication programmes promoting physical activity, dietary diversification, consumption of micronutrient-rich food products to include traditional local foods, and taking account of cultural factors.

Although the principal responsibility for implementing the Framework for Action rests with governments and parliaments, non-State actors such as civil society and the private sector have an important role to play by joining forces in ensuring that the proposals are put into action.

Throughout this process, the media have a crucial oversight role in ensuring that the challenges and proposed solutions identified by the Second International Conference on Nutrition become reality in the short and medium terms. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global acknowledgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Latin America Faces the Novelty and Challenge of Ageinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:58:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138179 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/feed/ 0 Starvation Strikes Zimbabwe’s Urban Dwellershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 18:51:05 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138176 Faced with starvation, hordes of jobless Zimbabweans in towns and cities here have turned to vending on streets pavements to put food on their tables. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Faced with starvation, hordes of jobless Zimbabweans in towns and cities here have turned to vending on streets pavements to put food on their tables. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

As unemployment deepens across this Southern African nation and as the country battles to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of the December 2015 deadline, thousands of urban Zimbabweans here are facing starvation.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Zimbabwe has a total population of just over 13 million people, according to the 2012 National Census – of these, 67 percent now live in rural areas while 33 percent live in urban areas.

According to the Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey report for 2011-2012 from the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZIMSTAT), 30.4 percent of rural people in Zimbabwe are “extremely poor” – and are also people facing starvation – compared with 5.6 percent in urban areas.“The current inability of the economy to address people’s basic needs is leading to hunger in most urban households, with almost none of urban residents in Zimbabwe being able to afford three meals a day nowadays” – Philip Bohwasi, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Council of Social Workers

Social workers find the stay of urban dwellers in Zimbabwe’s cities justifiable, but ridden with hardships.

“Remaining in towns and cities for many here is better than living in the countryside as every slightest job opportunity often starts in urban areas in spite of the expensive living conditions in towns and cities,” independent social worker Tracey Ngirazi told IPS.

According to Philip Bohwasi, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Council of Social Workers, urban starvation is being caused by loss of jobs – the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates unemployment in Zimbabwe to be at 60 percent of the country’s total population.

“The current inability of the economy to address people’s basic needs is leading to hunger in most urban households, with almost none of urban residents in Zimbabwe affording three meals a day nowadays,” Bohwasi told IPS.

True to Bohwasi’s words, for many Zimbabwean urban residents like unemployed 39-year-old qualified accountant Josphat Madyira from the Zimbabwean capital Harare, starvation has become order of the day.

“Food stores are filled to the brim with groceries, but most of us here are jobless and therefore have no money to consistently buy very basic foodstuffs, resulting in us having mostly one meal per day,” Madyira told IPS.

Madyira lost his job at a local shoe manufacturing company after it shut down operations owing to the country’s deepening liquidity crunch, thanks to a failing economy here that has rendered millions of people jobless.

Asked how city dwellers like him are surviving, Madyira said: “People who are jobless like me have resorted to vending on streets pavements, selling anything we can lay our hands on as we battle to put food on our tables.”

The donor community, which often extends food aid to impoverished rural households, has rarely done the same in towns and cities here despite hunger now taking its toll on the urban population, according to civil society activists.

“Whether in cities or remote areas, hunger in Zimbabwe is equally ravaging ordinary people and most of the donor community has for long directed food aid to the countryside, rarely paying attention to towns and cities, which are also now succumbing to famine,” Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network civil society organisation, told IPS.

Apparently failing to combat hunger in line with the MDGs, over the years Zimbabwe has not made great strides in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger due to the economic decline that has persisted since 2000.

As a result, earlier this year, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Zimbabwean government, extended its monthly cash pay-out scheme to urban areas.

Under this scheme, which started at the peak of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis in 2008, families living on less than 1.25 dollars a day receive a monthly pay-out of between 10 and 20 dollars, depending on the number of family members.

Economists and development experts here say that achieving the MDGs without food on people’s tables, especially in cities whose inhabitants are fast falling prey to growing hunger, is going to be a nightmare, if not highly impossible for Zimbabwe.

“Be it in cities or rural areas, Zimbabwe still has a lot of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day, which is the global index measure of extreme poverty, a clear indication that as a country we are far from successfully combating hunger and poverty in line with the U.N. MDGs whose global deadline for world countries to achieve is next year,” independent development expert Obvious Sibanda told IPS.

According to the 2013 Human Development Index of the U.N. Development Programmer (UNDP), Zimbabwe is a low-income, food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 countries globally and UNDP says that currently 72 percent of Zimbabweans live below the national poverty line.

Although hunger is now hammering people in both urban and rural areas, government sources also recognise that the pinch is being felt more by urban dwellers.

“The decline in formal employment, mostly in towns and cities, with many workers engaged in poorly remunerated informal jobs, has a direct bearing on both poverty and hunger, which is on a sharp rise in urban areas,” a top government economist, who declined to be named, admitted to IPS.

For the many hunger-stricken Madyiras in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, meeting the MDGS by the end of next year matters little.

“Defeating starvation is far from me without decent and stable employment and whether or not my country fulfils the MDGs, it may be of no immediate result to many people like me,” Madyira told IPS.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Marginalised Communities Warn of AIDS/TB “Tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:22:20 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138173 Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Marginalised communities and civil society groups helping them are warning of a “tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) as international funding for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) programmes in the regions is cut back.

The EECA is home to the world’s only growing HIV/AIDS epidemic and is the single most-affected region by the spread of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). For years, HIV/AIDS and TB programmes in many of its countries have been heavily, or exclusively, reliant on funding from theGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

But this year has seen the Global Fund move to a new financing model based on national income statistics, under which funding in many EECA countries has already been – or will soon be – heavily cut.“This [reduction in Global Fund financing] could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake” – Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD)

Some of those likely to be most heavily affected by the cuts say that the reduction in Global Fund financing is putting essential HIV/AIDS and TB services, and with it lives, at risk.

Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD) told IPS: “This could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake.”

At the heart of their concerns are worries over funding for not just medical treatment for existing patients but prevention and other services for at risk and marginalised communities.

Injection drug use has been identified as the main driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the EECA but HIV/AIDS is also being increasingly spread among men who have sex with men and sex workers – groups which are heavily marginalised because of political and societal attitudes to homosexuality and women.

TB, an equally severe health problem in the EECA, is closely linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic because co-infection rates are often high.

Throughout the region, prevention and harm reduction services for marginalised groups are provided by civil society groups which rely almost exclusively on international funding.

Sveta McGill, health advocacy officer at international advocacy NGO Results UK, told IPS that the withdrawal of Global Fund funding could see many sick people slip under the health care radar.

She said: “It is affecting services provided by NGOs covering at-risk groups. These ‘low threshold entry’ services, while not necessarily medical interventions, are crucial to keep people from risk groups coming to centres where they get referred to medical institutions to get treatment and can access medical services as well.

“Often, they would not feel comfortable going straight to state health care institutions, and closing down these venues would mean that less people would be referred to state health care institutions.”

Critics point to rising HIV/AIDS infections in Romania in recent years as a sign of what could happen in other EECA countries when the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

The Global Fund ended financing for programmes in the country in 2010. According to data from the Romanian government, since then there has been a dramatic rise in HIV infections among people who use drugs: in 2013, about 30 percent of new HIV cases were linked to injection drug use compared with just three percent in 2010.

Under the Global Fund’s New Financing Model (NFM), the major change is a reduction in financing to middle income countries. Many EECA countries are now classified as middle income and critics say that while the organisation’s goal of looking to prioritise use of finite resources is sensible, national income data does not always accurately reflect the ability of people to access health care services, nor whether a country has the funds for an adequate disease response.

They point to studies showing disease burdens shifting from low income countries to middle income states, and poverty being greatest in middle income countries. Also, most people living with HIV live in middle income countries.

But some have also dismissed as naive the notion that, as the Global Fund wants, national governments will automatically fill the gap in funding left as the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

Many point to the situation in Ukraine as an example highlighting the problems of the NFM.

According to a report from the Open Society Foundations, Global Fund spending on HIV will drop by more than 50 percent for Ukraine between 2014 and 2015. This includes reductions in unit cost spending for people who use drugs by 37 percent, for sex workers by 24 percent and for men who have sex with men by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the national HIV prevention budget was slashed by 71 percent in 2014 amid political and economic upheaval.

Lintsova, who lives in central Ukraine, told IPS of the problems drug users are currently facing.

She said that not only are there shortages of the right drugs to treat TB in some parts of the country, but that very few drug users have access to them. Places on opiate substitution treatment (OST) programmes are very limited and waiting times to join them long, sometimes fatally so.

“I know two people who died waiting to get on an OST programme,” she told IPS. “And there are other problems like a lack of needle exchange centres in rural areas, in fact a lack of any harm reduction services in small towns, which leads to high rates of HIV in those places.”

She added that without proper funding, the situation would not improve. “The only solution to these problems is financing,” she said.

But other stakeholders have also privately raised fears that a greater government role in fields such as drug procurement could see authorities looking to save money and procuring larger quantities of cheaper TB drugs of worse quality. Meanwhile, local legislation also makes procurement tenders long and difficult, leading, some health care experts predict, to governments running out of stocks of some essential medicines.

It is unclear how governments will deal with the reduction of Global Fund financing. The transition from Global Fund to domestic funding, although widely announced and anticipated, is not going smoothly in all countries.

Many are often unclear when the Global Fund will actually leave because no straightforward timing plan has been set. There are also specific problems in individual states. In Ukraine, in particular, domestic TB funding has been severely affected by the military conflict, struggling economy and currency fluctuation.

Late last month, these growing fears prompted 24 prominent NGOs in the region to send an open letter to the Global Fund warning of their ‘grave concerns’ over the allocation of funding in the region and calling for it to work with local groups and affected communities.

They specifically asked it to look at each country individually, rather than adopt a “one size fits all” approach.

The Global Fund declined to respond when contacted by IPS.

However, drug users who spoke to IPS said there was little hope of an improvement in the region’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics if the Global Fund fails to heed NGOs’ warnings.

Lintsova told IPS: “A lack of reaction to our calls could lead to problems accessing prevention and treatment programmes and a deepening of the EECA’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Women Must Be Partners and Drivers of Climate Change Decision-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:03:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138154 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

As leaders from around the world gather in Lima, Peru this week to discuss global cooperation in addressing climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season.

A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult choice to take her daughter out of school to help in the task of gathering water, which requires more and more time with each passing year.Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.

These women, and millions of women around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways.

For many, these impacts are felt so strongly because of gender roles – women are responsible for gathering water, food and fuel for the household. And for too many, a lack of access to information and decision-making exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Our leaders in Lima this week will meet to lay the critical foundations for a new global agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They seek to resolve important questions about collective action to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, to build resilience in communities to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid, and to provide the finance needed for climate-smart development around the world. It is critical that in all of these efforts, our leaders recognise the importance of ensuring that climate change solutions are gender-responsive.

What does it mean for climate change solutions to be gender-responsive? It means, for example, that in formulating strategies for renewable energy women are engaged in all stages and that these strategies take into consideration how women access and use fuel and electricity in their homes.

It means that vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans take into account women’s lives and capabilities. And critically, it means women are included at decision-making tables internationally, nationally, and locally when strategies and action plans are developed.

Going beyond the acknowledgment that men and women are impacted differently by climate change and thus, the need for climate policies and actions to be gender-responsive, we must also examine and support pathways to greater empowerment for women.

When women are empowered, their families, communities, and nations benefit. Responding to climate change offers opportunities to enhance pathways to empowerment. This requires addressing the underlying root causes such as gender stereotypes and social norms that perpetuate and compound inequality and discrimination.

Examples abound and these include removing restrictions to women’s mobility, providing full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, ensuring access to education and employment opportunities as well as access to economic resources, such as land and financial services.

Enhancing women’s agency is key to a human rights-based and equitable climate change agenda. In September during the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York, UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice brought together more than 130 women leaders for a forum on “Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action.”

We heard remarkable stories of women’s leadership in addressing all aspects of the climate crisis.

Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Women leaders mobilise communities, promote green investments, and develop energy efficient technologies. Indeed, if we are serious about tackling climate change, our leaders in Lima this week must ensure that women are equal partners and drivers of climate change decision-making.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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