Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Family Farmers – Forward to the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-forward-to-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:09:32 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137246 "Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

"Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

“Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?”

Pope Francis posed the question in a message read by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See for the celebration of World Food Day on Oct. 16 at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Pope’s message went to the heart of this year’s World Food Day theme – Family Farming: Feeding the Planet, Caring for the Earth – as part of the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).

The celebration of World Food Day offered an opportunity to share experiences and steps forward towards the eradication of hunger in a way that is sustainable for the future.

“Family farming is key in this effort”, said FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva, praising the contributions of farmers around the world. “For decades they were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security.”"For decades they [family farmers] were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security" – FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva

Food insecurity within the context of a growing world population, increasingly disruptive climate change and environmental destruction, scarce access to land and resources, discrimination against women and lack of financial support for smallholders and youth were some of the problems that were recognised as crucial in the global struggle to feed all.

Sustainable development and smart agriculture, climate change mitigation and adaptation to changing and more extreme conditions were raised as necessary strategies.

FAO figures show that increasing production is not the silver bullet – the world already produces 40 percent more than is needed.

Leslie Lipper, Senior Environmental Economist at FAO’s Economic and Social Department, raised the problem of access: “Today there is enough food in the world for everybody to be food secure, and we still have over 809 million people that are food insecure.”

“They don’t have the means to either buy or in some way get the food they need. We are looking at the need for an agriculture world strategy that increases income, not just production”, she added.

From a social perspective, Giuseppe Castiglione, Undersecretary at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy, highlighted the role of family farmers in terms of employment and social inclusion, saying that they offer the opportunity of involving vulnerable people in a familiar working environment that is more welcoming than other forms of employment.

The International Year of Family Farming has been a demonstration of what the United Nations system does well: gathering people, starting dialogue, creating platforms for discussion, raising awareness and sharing knowledge.

In this context, many speakers called for policy-makers to follow up and implement strategies that permit the creation of supporting infrastructures. In fact, farmers’ challenges include distributing food efficiently, gaining access to markets and financial investments, reducing waste and improving quality.

“Financial services enable farmers to generate income and insulate themselves from income shocks”, said Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

“Even a small amount of savings can mean that a mother does not have to sell her chickens or other income-earning assets in order to pay a doctor’s fee,” she added.

The crucial role of women as the backbone of agricultural production was not forgotten, and every speaker called for recognition of their role and for gender equality.

Santiago Del Solar Dorrego, Argentine agronomist and former president of a farmer group, suggested that while innovation is crucial, farmers should not go down that path alone if they do not have the scale to absorb the shock of failure. “Go together,” he said.

Jorge Anrango, responsible for food in rural and indigenous communities in the Ecuador delegation to FAO, talked to IPS about the experience of his country. “Everybody wanted to study, study, study. Nobody wanted to cultivate land”, he said, explaining that the IYFF has raised awareness of the importance of farming and has spurred people to return to the fields.

John Kufuor, former President of Ghana, highlighted the need for political leadership in policy-making for agriculture. He said that the 30 percent increase in rice production in his country had been made possible through offering landless people, women and youth degraded but usable land plots.

By providing them with access to training, markets and services, it had been possible to involve them in a system of plantation development and profit sharing and this programme had created jobs and improved income, food security and nutrition.

In a reference to the recent natural disasters that have hit the host country, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, a movement promoting local food systems, said that the floods and landslides that affected parts of northern Italy earlier in the month were the result of terrible hydrogeological conditions.

This, he explained, was because while family farmers used to clean canals and rivers and to ensure that the land was looked after, their role had been weakened, negatively affecting the public service they had once provided.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Ethiopia Shows Developing World How to Make a Green Economy Prosperhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-shows-developing-world-how-to-make-a-green-economy-prosper/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-shows-developing-world-how-to-make-a-green-economy-prosper http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ethiopia-shows-developing-world-how-to-make-a-green-economy-prosper/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 06:12:11 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137205 The GIZ, German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, Sustainable Land Management programme in northern Ethiopia. The programme includes promoting the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover etc.  Courtesy: GIZ

The GIZ, German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, Sustainable Land Management programme in northern Ethiopia. The programme includes promoting the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover etc. Courtesy: GIZ

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Ethiopia has experienced its fair share of environmental damage and degradation but nowadays it is increasingly setting an example on how to combat climate change while also achieving economic growth. 

“It is very well known by the international community that Ethiopia is one of the front-runners of international climate policy, if not the leading African country,” Fritz Jung, the representative of bilateral development cooperation at the Addis Ababa German Embassy, tells IPS.

This Horn of Africa nation has learned more than most that one of the most critical challenges facing developing countries is achieving economic prosperity that is sustainable and counters climate change.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “maximum and minimum temperatures over equatorial East Africa will rise and … climate models show warming in all four seasons over Ethiopia, which may result in more frequent heat waves.”Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

In Africa, the primary concern is adapting to the negative impacts of climate change. Though the report recognised Ethiopia as one of the countries that have “adopted national climate resilience strategies with a view to applying them across economic sectors.”

Along with China and India, Ethiopia provided a case study for researchers conducting a year-long investigation into issues such as macroeconomic policy and impacts; innovation, energy, finance and cities; and agriculture, forests and land use.

Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE), a strategy launched in 2011 to achieve middle-income status by 2025 while developing a green economy, “is proof of Ethiopia’s visionary engagement for combining socio-economic development as well as environmental sustainability,” Jung says.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, partnered with Ethiopian government organisations to tackle environmental issues.

One programme has been the Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP), launched in 2008.

Northern Ethiopia suffered significant soil erosion and degradation — with farmers driven to cultivate the steepest slopes, suspending themselves by ropes — before attempts were made to counter ecological destruction.

Since then approximately 250,000 hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia’s highland areas of Amhara, Oromia and Tigray — in which over 50 percent of Ethiopia’s 94 million people live — has been restored to productivity.

This has been achieved through promoting sustainable land management practices such as the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, and improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover, benefiting more than 100,000 households.

“SLMP with its holistic approach increases water availability for agriculture and agricultural productivity and thus contributes directly and indirectly to an increased climate resilience of the rural population,” Johannes Schoeneberger, head of GIZ’s involvement, tells IPS.

One particular example of this, Schoeneberger says, was the introduction of improved cooking stoves combined with newly established wood lots at farmers’ homesteads reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pressure on natural forests. It also reduced households’ bills for fuel wood, he notes.

Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

“[This] bold action in anticipation of future gains is something countries need to focus on,” Getahun Moges, director general of the Ethiopian Energy Authority, tells IPS. “I believe every country has potential to build a green economy, the issue is whether there’s enough political appetite for this against short-term interests.”

When it comes to countries working out effective methods to enact, Ethiopia finds itself somewhat of an authority on achieving sustainability due to past experiences.

“Ethiopians can give answers whereas often in industrialised countries people aren’t sure what to do,” Yvo de Boer, director general of Global Green Growth Institute, an international organisation focused on economic growth and environmental sustainability, tells IPS. “Ethiopians should be asked.”

The result of that research was a report called the New Climate Economy (NCE) released last month in Addis Ababa and New York.

NCE is the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, established in 2013 — Ethiopia was one of seven founding members, and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute participated in the global partnership of leading institutes informing the NCE — to examine whether lasting economic growth while also tackling the risks of climate change is achievable.

And the NCE has concluded that both goals are possible.

“The notion that economic prosperity is inconsistent with combating climate change has been shown to be a false one that doesn’t hold,” Helen Mountford, director of economics at Washington-based World Resources Institute and future global programme director of the New Climate Economy, tells IPS. “It’s an old-fashioned idea.”

This turnaround has been made possible by structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy, and by opportunities for greater economic efficiency, according to the NCE.

By focusing on cities, land use and renewable and low-carbon energy sources, while increasing resource efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation, it is claimed a wider economy and better environment are achievable for countries at all levels of development.

Although Ethiopia is by no means out of the woods yet.

“Climate change together with other challenges like demographic growth and competing land use plans continue to threaten the great natural resource base and biodiversity of the country,” Jung says.

But Ethiopia appears to have heeded past problems and chosen to follow a different, and more sustainable, path.

And according to those behind the NCE there is reason for optimism globally on how to achieve a more sustainable future.

They hope that the NCE’s findings will encourage future agreement and cooperation when nations discuss and implement international climate change policies, allowing the ghosts of the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord — previous efforts judged ineffective — to be laid to rest.

But others, such as environmental economist Gunnar Köhlin, director of Sweden-based Environment for Development Initiative, point out that previous sustainability initiatives have struggled to achieve tangible results, especially in Africa.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has still not invested fully in a mature energy generation and distribution system,” Köhlin tells IPS. “There are therefore still many choices to be made in supplying households with energy that is both not aggravating climate change and at the same time is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

In light of this and the failure of previous projects, Köhlin suggests, the NCE begs the question: What will be different this time?

“In the last 10 to 15 years new policy developments have started to take hold,” Mountford says. “Yes, there have been failures, but there have been many successes and so we have taken stock of these — now we are at a tipping point, with the lessons learned from these recent experiences and significant technological innovations giving us new opportunities.”

The true test of the NCE’s merit will come at the next major convention on climate change due in Paris in 2015, when world leaders will wrestle with, and attempt to agree on, international strategy.

“Let us hope Paris might bring about historic decisions and agreements, and this report might contribute to that end,” Moges says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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Africa Can Be its Own ‘Switzerland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:58:30 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137171 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Africa has the capacity to access at least 200 billion dollars for sustainable development investment but it will remain a slave to foreign aid unless it improves the climate for investment and trade and plugs illicit financial flows, development experts say.

“Africa is not poor financially but it needs to get its house in order,” Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration, infrastructure and trade at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS during the commission’s Ninth African Development Forum, which is being held in Morocco from Oct. 13 to 16.

“For too long we have allowed the narrative of Africa to be one about raw materials and natural resources coming out of Africa, yet Africa can take advantage of its own comparative advantages, including these natural resources, and become the leader in the value chains that require these raw materials.”

Research by the ECA shows that the total illicit financial outflows in Africa over the last 10 years, about 50 billion dollars a year, is equivalent to nearly all the official development assistance received by the continent.

“Africa is ready for transformation and we have the continental frameworks [for it],” said Karingi.

A combination of luring private equity investment, remittances and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development.

Sub-saharan Africa has one of the highest number of hungry people and has a growing youth population in need of jobs.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by, among other factors, improved governance and macroeconomic management, rapid urbanisation and expanding regional markets.

Currently Africa is estimated to have a 100-billion-dollar annual funding gap for infrastructure development with about 45 billion dollars of this set to come from domestic resources.

Carlos Lopes, ECA executive secretary, said developing countries must strive to mobilise additional financial resources, including through accessing financial markets. He added that at the same time developed countries must honour the financial commitments they have made in international forums.

“The continent must embark on reforms to capture currently unexplored or poorly-managed resources,” Lopez said.

This is the first time that the Africa Development Forum has focused on the continent’s development.

Discussions focused on enhancing Africa’s capacity to explore innovative financing mechanisms as real alternatives for financing transformative development in Africa.

It aims to forge linkages between the importance of mainstreaming resource mobilisation and the reduction of trade barriers into economic, institutional and policy frameworks, and advancing the post-2015 development goals.

Macroeconomic policy division head at ECA, Adama Elhiraika, told IPS that the new sustainable development goals present an opportunity for Africa to excel by prioritising its development issues.

Elhiraika said Africa has all the ingredients to be a financial hub and investment magnet along the lines of “Switzerland” if only it can improve its investment and trade climate, tackle corruption and raise money internally.

“We need to get our policies right and allow for the kind of investments that people [can make] in Switzerland,” Elhiraika said.

“Given the size of Africa, there is need to promote free movement of capital, which is as important as the free movement of goods and services in boosting trade and investment.”

According to the World Bank, of the 50 economies that recorded improved in their regulatory business environment in 2013, 17 are from Africa, with eight of those economies being ranked ahead of mainland China, 11 ahead of Russia and 16 ahead of Brazil.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Civil Society in Cuba Finds More Space Under the Reformshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:25:21 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137201 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/feed/ 2 Corruption, Tax Evasion Fuel Inequality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:34:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137163 (1)	Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

(1) Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Corruption and tax evasion are flagrant violations of human rights in Latin America, where they contribute to inequality and injustice in the countries of the region, according to studies and experts consulted by IPS.

“Tax evasion means that those who are most vulnerable are denied the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights, including health and education,” said Rocío Noriega, an adviser on governance, ethics and transparency for the United Nations Development Programme.

“Corruption has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights,” she added. It also constitutes “a threat to democracy, because it systematically violates the foundation of citizenship by perpetuating inequality based on access by the few to power, wealth and personal connections,” she told IPS.

Corruption, as a way of distributing public resources for purposes other than the common good, is a serious violation of human rights, experts agreed.

Perceptions of corruption

Most Latin Americans view corruption as one of the three main problems in their country, according to the 2013 Latinobarómetro public opinion poll.

In Costa Rica, 20 percent of respondents complained of corruption, 29 percent of economic problems and six percent of crime.

In Honduras the proportions were 11 percent for corruption, 61 percent for economic problems and 28 percent for crime. In Brazil and Colombia, 10 percent of respondents said corruption was their primary concern, in third place behind economic problems and crime.

In Argentina and Peru, eight percent of interviewees named corruption as their main problem: in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic it was seven percent; in Mexico six percent; in Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay five percent; in Guatemala four percent; in Nicaragua three percent; in El Salvador and Venezuela two percent; and in Chile and Uruguay, one percent.

Latinobarómetro said the poll appeared to show that corruption is not as serious a problem as experts and transparency reports would indicate, but this is because – as happened previously with crime – in many countries of the region corruption is a hidden issue, and they cited Mexico as a prime example.

Mexico is the country with the highest proportion of people who are aware of cases of corruption (39 percent), and transparency reports say its level of corruption is high; yet only six percent view corruption as the main problem.

Source: 2013 Latinobarómetro poll

In 2013 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that, since corruption can occur in many different forms and contexts, it is almost impossible to identify all the human rights that are violated.

They added that corruption is an obstacle for the development of societies, but is also a serious problem for strengthening the legitimacy of democracy, because its prevalence and the perception of citizens of its incidence in public affairs and institutions can greatly undermine support for democratic regimes.

The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll indicates that 26 percent of all Latin Americans said they were aware of at least one case of corruption in their country in the past 12 months. A similar percentage said that nearly everyone in their government was corrupt.

Venezuela and Mexico top the ranking for perception of corruption, with 39 percent making these statements, followed by Paraguay (38 percent) and Chile (35 percent). Among the countries with the lowest perception of corruption were Uruguay (19 percent), Nicaragua (17 percent), Honduras Guatemala and Brazil (16 percent), and El Salvador (eight percent).

Francisca Quiroga, a political analyst and expert on public policies at the University of Chile, told IPS that both corruption and tax evasion are directly correlated to inequality and injustice.

She said: “Tax policies are a potential instrument for distributing resources and funding the development of social policies.

“The underlying rationale is the duty to combat inequality and to redistribute resources, as well as to build more sustainable economies,” she said.

“When talking about human rights and social rights, in particular, one of the elements to take into account is taxation policy, and the institutional mechanisms to ensure the legitimacy of the decisions taken,” she said.

High inequality is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Latin America’s social situation.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), income distribution inequality in the region is substantially higher than in other global regions, with an average Gini coefficient of 0.53.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality, expressed as an index between zero and one. Zero represents perfect equality, while a value of one represents complete inequality.

For example, the least unequal country in the region is more unequal than any non-Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), or than any country in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a report titled “Evasión y Equidad en América Latina” (Evasion and Equality in Latin America) by the ECLAC Economic Development Division.

The five Latin American countries with the worst income distribution, according to the report, are Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Chile, in that order.

In Chile, most employed people earn around 500 dollars a month, in a country where bread costs two dollars a kilo, while the richest 4,500 families live on more than 30,000 dollars a month.

“Tax evasion is a form of fraud that undermines equality, there is no doubt about it,” sociologist Marta Lagos, the head of Latinobarómetro, told IPS.

“There is massive empirical evidence that shows that income distribution improves when taxes are paid,” she said.

“The lack of formality of our state agencies allows tax evasion to occur,” and this may happen in powerful and wealthy circles as well as among ordinary citizens, she said.

She calls this phenomenon “social fraud,” pointing to its basis in customs overwhelmingly regarded as acceptable in social practice, so that the state is unable to eradicate it. “It is customary, however wrong, illegal and immoral,” she said.

Lagos stressed that social fraud may be wrong, immoral or illegal. Wrongness refers to offences that are not legally penalised but affect coexistence, such as parking a vehicle badly and paralysing traffic. Immoral acts include situations like eating something while shopping in a supermarket and not paying for it.

Illegal social fraud, in turn, may occur on a mass scale and covers those who avoid paying for a bus ticket, use state subsidies improperly, or evade paying taxes.

In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, it is common practice for retail outlets in outlying neighbourhoods not to issue receipts for every purchase, said Lagos, and this is wholly accepted by the population.

“I don’t really care,” Bernarda, a middle-aged woman who buys bread every day from a small store near her home in La Florida, a mainly middle class suburb southeast of Santiago, but who does not always receive a formal receipt for her purchase.

“I have known this woman (the store owner) for years and I know she is honest,” she said. “It’s all the same to me,” said another neighbour beside her. “What do I want a tax receipt for? Anyway, everybody does it,” she said.

This behaviour is widespread in the region and is reflected daily in the question that retailers and service providers in many countries constantly ask consumers when it is time to pay: “With IVA (value added tax) or without IVA?”

Lagos said that over the past decade tax evasion has come to be seen as increasingly legitimate, since corruption in high places “increases people’s perception that it is acceptable not to pay taxes, because the money is being stolen and misspent.”

Quiroga, however, believes the time has come for citizens to realise that their political and social rights are infringed whenever the system allows tax evasion and corruption to become common practice.

“This is the only way we are going to be able to overcome this scourge,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cycle of Death, Destruction and Rebuilding Continues in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:28:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137147 Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

When the international pledging conference to rebuild a devastated Gaza ended in Cairo over the weekend – the third such conference in less than six years – the lingering question among donors was: is this the last of it or are there more assaults to come?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly warned of the futility of the continuing exercise when he said: “We cannot continue to build and destroy – and build and destroy – like this. This should be the last reconstruction conference”."Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians." -- Sarah Leah Whitson

But will it?

The total amount pledged at the Cairo conference was around 5.4 billion dollars.

The funds came mostly from the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East & North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS many of the participants in the Gaza reconstruction have proclaimed their understanding that money is not enough to Israel’s never-ending cycle of death and destruction in Gaza.

“What’s still missing is the international community’s commitment to opening the borders of Gaza so that people there can have a basis of normal life, develop their economy, and take one step away from poverty and handouts,” she added.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS Ban Ki-moon is right that reconstruction followed by destruction is an exercise in futility, but he appears to feel no responsibility in making sure the destruction doesn’t happen.

“The United Nations was set up to avoid the gross violation of rights that Israel has repeatedly visited upon Gaza – and upon the Palestinian people over nearly seven decades.”

Ban, in particular, is well-placed to hold Israel accountable under many legal instruments, she pointed out.

“But for decades the U.N. secretary-general has never acted until world powers asked him to do so. And world powers only act in their own interests,” she said.

Hijab also said the reconstruction conference on Gaza is an attempt by these same world powers to be seen to be dealing with the aftermath of an Israeli assault that provoked worldwide outrage. But if the “international community” really cared about the Palestinians of Gaza, they would order Israel to lift its blockade without delay, she declared.

“And follow that by cutting back on their trade and military ties with Israel until it quits the occupied Palestinian territory,” said Hijab.

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 Israelis killed.

The hostilities in July-August significantly worsened a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to HRW. They left 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who participated in the pledging conference, was constrained to remark, “This is the third time in less than six years that together with the people of Gaza, we have been forced to confront a reconstruction effort.

“[And] this is the third time in less than six years that we’ve seen war break out and Gaza left in rubble. This is the third time in less than six years that we’ve had to rely on a ceasefire, a temporary measure, to halt the violence,” he said.

“Now, I don’t think there’s any person here who wants to come yet again to rebuild Gaza only to think that two years from now or less were going to be back at the same table talking about rebuilding Gaza again because the fundamental issues have not been dealt with,” Kerry declared, taking a passing shot at Israel.

Ban said “whatever we may reconstruct this may not be sustainable if it is not supported by political dialogue. That is why peace talks are the most important. There is no alternative to dialogue and resolving all these underlying issues through political negotiations,” he noted.

He said this must be the last Gaza reconstruction conference.

“The cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough,” he added.

In a statement released here, HRW said blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza.

Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza.

“The U.N. Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions,” HRW said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, reinforced by Egypt, has largely prevented the export and import of commercial and agricultural goods, crippling Gaza’s economy, as well as travel for personal, educational, and health reasons, according to HRW.

“Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians,” HRW’s Whitson said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Reducing Hunger: More Than Just Access to Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 20:00:33 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137144 A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

“We want healthy food, we want to produce according to our traditions,” farmers and activists demanded during an international forum of experts on agriculture and the environment in this southern Italian city.

It is not necessary to go far to find an illustration of the difficulties facing farmers in achieving that goal, Dario Natale told IPS. He is a young man who lives in the area between the cities of Naples and Caserta known as “Terra dei fuochi” or land of fire, due to the chronic burning of waste, much of it toxic.

“The land is polluted, people get sick and our products are under suspicion. The government has done nothing,” complained the 24-year-old Natale, who belongs to Stop Biocidio, a group that is demanding an end to the illegal dumping or burying of waste in the area, and to the burning of garbage, which began in the 1990s.

That area in the southwest province of Campania is known for the production of vegetables, fruit and mozzarella cheese made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo.

Since the 1990s, the Camorra, the Naples mafia, has taken over the handling and disposal of refuse and toxic waste hauled in from Italy’s industrialised north and dumped in the south, which has caused serious damage to the environment, health and the local economy.“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn't mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one.” -- Marino Niola

This is one of the problems that will be discussed at the Expo Milan, to be held in May 2015 in that northern Italian city, under the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. In the expo, participating countries will present their situation regarding the production of food, the fight against hunger, and measures adopted to guarantee food security.

These are the same issues that were tackled at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples under the theme “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”.

The Forum, organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions, brought together some 200 reporters, academics, activists, students and representatives of governments and multilateral organisations from 47 countries.

During the four days of talks and debates they also discussed issues like the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations, and the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

The nations of the developing South, different experts said, are in an ambiguous situation, because they fight hunger but are only partly successful when it comes to ensuring food security which also involves production and distribution of quality food.

“It’s not just about production of enough food for everyone; it means that every individual must have access to food,” Adriana Opromolla, Caritas International campaign manager, told IPS. “In Latin America, for example, compliance with that right varies. The fact that countries have laws on it does not mean they are necessarily complying.”

Caritas released a report on food security in Guatemala and Nicaragua on Monday during the annual forum of the International Food Security & Nutrition Civil Society Mechanism, held in the Rome headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Oct. 12-19 is the Food Week of Action.

By 2050, demand for food will expand 65 percent, while the world population will reach nine billion.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report released Sept. 16 revealed that the proportion of undernourished people in Latin America went down from 15.3 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

As a result, this region met the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) one year before the 2015 deadline. The MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000, and the first is to cut the proportion of hungry people and people living in extreme poverty around the world by half, from 1990 levels.

Measures taken in the region have varied. For example, nations like Colombia and Mexico included the right to food in the constitution, while other countries, such as Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador adopted legislation on the matter.

“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn’t mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one,” Marino Niola, director of the Centre for Social Research on the Mediterranean Diet, or MedEatResearch, at the private Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, told IPS.

In 2004, FAO adopted the “Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security”, which are being reviewed this year.

The theme for World Food Day, Oct. 16, this year is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

“The right to food is an ethical way to address food production and distribution. It has to be guaranteed for importing countries,” Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS.

In his research, the U.S. expert has found that 13 counties were totally dependent on imported grains in 2013, 51 were dependent on imports for more than 50 percent, and 77 were dependent on imports for over 25 percent.

More than 90 million people in the world are totally dependent on imported grains, 376 million are dependent on imports for more than 50 percent and 882 million are dependent on imports for more than 25 percent.

Opromolla said more budgetary resources are needed, as well as greater transparency in decision-making and more participation by civil society.

“It’s a structural problem,” the Caritas expert said. “Multiple measures are needed, applied in a coherent manner. The commitment by the state is essential, because it must guarantee the right to food.”

Natale is clear on what he wants and does not want for situations like the current one in “Terra dei fuochi”: No more pollution of the soil and water, and government protection of agricultural production. “Our diet is healthy. It doesn’t depend only on pizza and pasta, as the government says. If we don’t produce, where does the food come from?”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Can China Pacify Its Restive Minorities Peacefully?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:28:55 +0000 Piero Sarmiento http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137136 Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

By Piero Sarmiento
HONG KONG, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

The Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was recently sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of separatism.

The former economics professor, who resided in Beijing for most of his career, is internationally known for his countless articles promoting stronger interethnic dialogue between Uighurs and China’s majority Han population. Through writing and peaceful advocacy, Tohti tried to lessen the friction between Uighurs and the Han community while advocating for Uighur rights.Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades.

Cynically, Chinese authorities treated his dedication to broader understanding among Chinese ethnic groups as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Tohti’s supporters consider him a peaceful yet passionate advocate for human rights. Instead he has been treated as just another Islamic extremist from Xinjiang.

In recent years, minority groups all over China have grown progressively more restive, with peaceful demonstrations increasing alongside violent terrorism. Separatists in the western regions have launched attacks against government buildings and innocent bystanders, while others have engaged in civil disobedience — included hundreds of self-immolations.

These are not arbitrary actions. Uighurs and Tibetans, among other underrepresented ethnic groups in China, have long felt oppressed by Communist Party policies. The government’s initial response has been to crack down on these “separatist forces” with an iron fist as a means to maintain social order and a semblance of unity.

Yet this response has only led to deeper resentment, prompting the government to explore alternative measures.

Although the government has not completely abandoned the “iron fist” policy, as the story of Ilham Tohti reveals, the Communist Party has devised a number of other strategies to address ethnic unrest. Many of these fall into the category of “soft power.” Nowadays the Chinese leadership is vigorously pursuing both approaches, deploying a carrot or a stick depending on the circumstances.

Rising unrest

Tibet is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tibetans, while Uighurs constitute a plurality in Xinjiang. Han Chinese have increasingly settled in both regions—especially in Xinjiang, where their numbers nearly match those of the Uighurs, which has led to clashes.

Even though China’s official language is Standard Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur are the preferred tongues, and sometimes the only spoken ones, among many natives of the western regions. Unlike the generally nonreligious Han, Uighurs and Tibetans are highly religious—the Uighurs overwhelmingly Muslim and Tibetans overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Many Uighurs and Tibetans do not consider themselves actual Chinese citizens, or their homelands part of mainland China. For example, Uighurs in Xinjiang often refer to their region as East Turkestan and refuse to use any other name.

Even though minorities are exempted from certain national laws, such as the one-child policy, the Chinese government’s rigorous political oversight of their territories has created friction among the various ethnic groups. Many Muslims in Xinjiang believe that government policies pose a threat to their cultural identity and dignity.

In 2014, for example, Chinese authorities restricted the observance of Ramadan. Drastic measures were taken to prohibit the use of the Quran in educational settings, discourage attendance at madrasas, and curtail customary fasting habits.

Younger generations have been the most vulnerable to these sanctions, since they find themselves obliged by their teachers and superiors to ignore their Islamic traditions. The government in Beijing is not only targeting children and average Uighur citizens, but also the local authorities. Xinjiang officials themselves have been reprimanded for openly expressing their religious beliefs.

The people holding the highest positions of power in China tend to come from the dominant Han ethnic group. Smaller communities have been perennially marginalised and overshadowed. Lately, this underlying animosity has escalated, resulting in outbursts of violence—not only in Tibet and Xinjiang, but all over the nation.

One of the most recent tragic events took place in the province neighbouring Tibet known as Yunnan. Last March, knife-wielding assailants assaulted crowds in the Kunming train station, resulting in 29 deaths and over 140 injuries in a bloodbath the Chinese government blamed on Uighur separatists. Another dramatic attack followed two months later in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, when attackers crashed cars and threw explosives at a crowded marketplace, killing 31.

An earlier incident occurred in October 2013, when a car crashed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and burst into flames in a suspected suicide attack. Five people were killed, including three in the car, and dozens were injured. Last August, the Chinese government executed eight Uighurs it accused of fomenting terrorism, including one allegedly linked to the Tiananmen attack.

The situation in Tibet—where there have been few reports of violent resistance since the uprising of 2008—has been somewhat different.

There, protestors have relied on “passive aggressive” tactics, including more than 120 cases of self-immolations. The Communist Party has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting these activities and incarcerated many Buddhists who have attempted the same or urged others to do so. Most of these “separatist revolutionaries” have been labeled as traitors, given death sentences, or put behind bars.

Soft power

But without forsaking its “iron fist,” the government in Beijing is now experimenting with different approaches to balancing majority-minority relations without the use of force.

One such unorthodox tool has been encouraging interracial marriages. In order to promote these matches, economic and social incentives have been offered, including paid vacations, social security, and employment prospects. Even though there are still few of these interracial marriages, the numbers have more than quadrupled since 2008, going over the 4,000 mark.

Not everyone is thrilled at the strategy, however. Many minorities view inter-marriage, like the earlier efforts to relocate Han to the Western regions, as just another strategy to absorb and integrate non-Han Chinese into the dominant Han culture. The ultimate goal, they warn, is the destruction of minority cultures.

Other parties are experimenting with media outreach. A Chinese film company known as Shenzhen Qianheng, for example, is developing a 3D cartoon called “Princess Fragrant,” a love story about an 18th-century Han Chinese emperor and his Uighur consort. The cartoon’s Han creators hope it will encourage curiosity and communication between Uighurs and Hans.

Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades. The Chinese government needs to address the structural issues that have generated the mistrust and resentment.

But Beijing is not going to allow the vast, geopolitically significant territories of Xinjiang and Tibet to secede from the country. A common ground has to be found and more freedoms have to be granted if China is indeed going to maintain its internal cohesion in a peaceful and productive way.

Tohti’s imprisonment and the higher degree of surveillance imposed in Xinjiang and Tibet shows that the Chinese government will not hesitate to keep the country unified by any means. The long-term effects of such actions, however, might potentially escalate the existing conflict.

Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, believes that the Tohti verdict is only going to aggravate the overall domestic situation: “Rather than encouraging sensible, moderate voices like Tohti’s,” she said, “this will exacerbate the tensions in the region.”

After Tohti was incarcerated, many lost hope for the peaceful road to ethnic equality that he actively supported. It’s not too late, however, for the Chinese government to realize that a policy of carrots will be more successful in the long term than the sticks that it has recently deployed.

Piero Sarmiento is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, a Nobel Prize Is a ‘Ray of Hope’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 14:03:19 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137125 The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 12 2014 (IPS)

For girls living in northern Pakistan’s sprawling tribal regions, the struggle for education began long before that fateful day when members of the Taliban shot a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.

Still, the news that Malala Yousafzai – a former resident of the Swat Valley in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province – had received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 10, brought renewed vigor to those battling the Taliban’s hard-line attitude towards girls’ education.

Residents here told IPS that when she survived an attempt on her life on Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai became an icon, a representative of the state of terror that has become a part of everyday existence here.

“We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA." -- Yasmeen Bibi, a 13-year-old refugee who is not attending school.
By awarding her the world’s most prestigious peace prize, experts say, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to all who remain trapped in zones where the sanctity of education has been subordinated to the perils of conflict.

Muhammad Shafique, a professor at the University of Peshawar, the KP province’s capital, told IPS that Yousafzai’s prize has turned a “spotlight onto the importance of education.”

“It will be a motivational force for parents to send their daughters back to school,” he added.

Since militants began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2001, following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, residents of these mountainous areas have endured the full force of extremist campaigns to impose strict Islamic rule over the population.

At the height of the Taliban’s rule over the Swat Valley, between 2007 and 2009, approximately 224 schools were destroyed, stripping over 100,000 children of a decent education.

It was during this period that Yousafzai, just 12 years old at the time, began recording the hardships she faced as a young girl in search of an education, writing regular reports for the Urdu service of the BBC from her hometown of Swat.

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Her struggle found echo all around northern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of young people like herself were living in constant fear of reprisals for daring to pursue their studies.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), for instance, Taliban edicts banning secular schools as a “ploy” by the West to undermine Islam have kept 50 percent of school aged children out of the classroom.

Since the decade beginning in 2004, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, according to a source within the FATA directorate for education.

FATA has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children receiving an education. In total, about 518,000 children in FATA are sitting idle, as per government records.

The dropout rate touched 73 percent between 2007 and 2013, as families fled from one district to another to escape the Taliban. The latest wave of displacement has seen close to one million people from North Waziristan Agency evacuating their homes since Jun. 15 and taking refuge in Bannu, an ancient city in KP.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A rapid assessment report released by the United Nations in August found that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys were not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

Already nursing a miserable primary school enrollment rate of 37 percent, Bannu is on the verge of a full-blown educational crisis, with 80 percent of its school buildings now occupied by refugees.

Thus the honour bestowed upon Yousafzai has touched many thousands of people, and breathed new life into the campaign for the right to education. Since October 2012, enrollment in the Swat Valley has increased by two percent, according to Swat Education Officer Maskeen Khan.

“Now, we are expecting a huge boost after the award,” the official told IPS.

Naila Ahmed, a 10th-grader originally hailing from North Waziristan Agency who now lives in a refugee camp in Bannu, feels her generation has been “unlucky”, forced to grow up without an education.

The situation is so dire that she views her displacement as a “blessing in disguise”, since the move to Bannu has enabled her to enroll in a private school for the first time in many years.

She is one of the fortunate ones; few parents in this militancy-infested region can afford the cost of private schooling, she says.

Thirteen-year-old Yasmeen Bibi is one of those whose parents cannot shoulder the bill for an education. “We hope that the government will make arrangements for our education,” she told IPS from her makeshift home in a refugee camp in Bannu, adding, “We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA.”

Her words hearken back to the time immediately following Yousafzai’s decision to flee the country, when many from the Swat Valley and its surrounding provinces felt let down by the rising star, left behind to face the Taliban’s wrath stemming from the teenager’s newfound fame.

Some agreed with the Taliban’s claim that she had “abandoned Islam for secularism” by accepting an offer to live and study in the UK.

In the last few days, however, any ill feeling towards Yousafzai, now the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, appears to have dissipated, replaced by a kind of collective euphoria at the global acknowledgement of her courage.

All throughout Swat, girls’ schools distributed free sweets on Oct. 10 and celebrated in the streets.

Yousafzai’s former classmate, Mushatari Bibi, explained that the news has been like “a ray of hope” to other girls, who take a big risk each time they leave their homes to head to school.

Some even say that the Nobel Prize, and the hope it has instilled in the population, represents a challenge to the very foundations of the Taliban’s power, since more people now feel compelled to stand up to the militants that have plagued the lives of millions for well over a decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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New Trains, New Hopes, Old Anguishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 13:18:26 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137115 Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Oct 11 2014 (IPS)

The kids of Kodikaman, a dusty village straddling the newly laid railway line in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District, enjoy a special treat these days.

For hours on end, they wait expectantly at the edge of the rails for a track construction engine to pass by; when it nears, they rush to place metal coins on the track and when the trundling vehicle has passed, they run back gleefully to pick up the disfigured money.

This little ritual is just one of many signs that the new line, re-laid here after 24 years, is a big deal all over the Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that bore the brunt of the country’s three-decade-old conflict that ended in May 2009.

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The last train that plied the line through Kodikaman, some 380 km north of the capital, Colombo, ran on the night of Jun. 13, 1990, when the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the popular Yal Devi (Jaffna Princess) express.

The Yal Devi had previously been attacked in 1985, also by the Tigers, resulting in reduced train service throughout Sri Lanka’s northern province for almost an entire generation.

So when the first trains to enter the Vanni in over two decades did so in September 2013, school children came out in hordes just to catch a glimpse of the carriages passing through Kilinochichi, the town that was, for over a decade, the Tigers’ de-facto economic and administrative nerve centre.

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“The entire public here is waiting for this dream to come true,” said S L Gupta, project director for IRCON, the government-owned Indian company – a subsidiary of Indian Railways – that is reconstructing 252 km of train links in the Vanni at a cost of 800 million dollars.

The project got off the ground in February 2011 and large sections have already been completed. Trains now ply up to Madhu Road on the northwestern line and up to Pallai, about 17 km south of Jaffna, on the northern line.

On Oct. 13, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will officially declare open the track all the way to Jaffna.

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“It will be momentous,” Gupta asserted.

Vadevil Jayakumar, a native of Kilinochchi, agrees with this assessment. He takes the train weekly with his wife, his sister and his young niece.

“It’s cheap, it’s convenient and faster than the bus,” Jayakumar told IPS, riding on the footrest of one of the carriages, his sister and niece occupying the open door at the other end of the train car.

Indeed, a ticket from Colombo all the way up to the Vanni – covering a distance of some 264 km – costs just 180 rupees (about 1.25 dollars). But the novelty of the trains, many say, ends there.

“Very few take the train, they prefer the bus still,” said Nesarathnam Praveen, the 23-year-old stationmaster of the Madhu Road terminus. He says the bulk of his commuters pass through here only when there are festivals at the famous Madhu Church, which attracts thousands from in and outside the province.

On ordinary days, he confesses, this little station lies mostly empty.

Even on the Yal Devi, returning from Colombo on a stifling October afternoon, the bulk of the passengers are government military personnel returning to their posts up north.

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Part of the problem, passengers say, is that trains here don’t run as regularly as they do elsewhere in the country. In fact, the most frequent carriers on the northwestern line are former road buses that have been converted into rail-friendly vehicles that move in pairs along the track.

Trains can’t outstrip poverty

Despite their multi-million-dollar price tag, the new rail links are yet to provide the spark needed to jumpstart the Vanni economy, still in the doldrums despite five years of peace and a massive reconstruction effort in the Northern Province exceeding three billion dollars.

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Poverty is rampant in the region. The poverty headcount in the Mullaitivu District is a national high of 28.8 percent, almost six times the national average of 6.7 percent and 20 times that of the 1.4 percent recorded in the Colombo District.

Other districts in the north are not faring much better: Kilinochchi has a poverty rate of 12.7 percent, Mannar 20.1 percent and Jaffna 8.3 percent.

Only Vavuniya, the southern-most of the five northern districts and the gateway to the rest of the country, is performing well, with a poverty ratio of 3.4 percent.

Unemployment rates follow a similar trend, with Kilinochchi recording a rate of 7.9 percent, nearly double the national average of 4.4 percent, while all districts other than Vavuniya recorded rates higher than the national benchmark.

The primary reason for this, experts say, has been slow job creation. Fishing and agriculture constitute the bulk of the Vanni’s economic activity, but policies aimed at creating markets and bringing in buyers are rare.

Private sector involvement, while on the rise, has not been able to breathe life into an economy repeatedly amputated by the conflict.

Economists blame  a lopsided policy framework, that has poured millions into large infrastructure development without paying adequate attention to revitalising local income generation, for the chronic poverty in the north on

Anushka Wijesinha, economist and policy advisor at the Colombo-based think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, told IPS that if transporting bulk cargo by rail is made cheaper, goods from the Vanni could achieve a more attractive price.

But for the northern railway to become a real purveyor of economic success, more attention, more incentives and more funds need to be directed to the medium- and small-scale Vanni entrepreneur.

“The new transport [line] can certainly boost economic connectivity of businesses in Jaffna and Mannar,” Wijesinha said. “But enterprise policies must focus on helping to grow indigenous businesses in these regions. Otherwise the enhanced connectivity might benefit businesses coming from outside into these regions more than it helps businesses that are already struggling to grow.”

 

“Policies that improve the business climate, access to finance, technology and business skills will be key,” Wijesinha concluded.

Economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who specialises in the northern economy, told IPS that before the conflict erupted, the northern region brought in the highest per-region revenue to the Railways Department. This was likely due to the fact that the Northern Line was the longest in the country, with 83 station stops.

Sarvananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Jaffna, emphasised that the government needs to come up with an integrated plan to capitalise on cheaper costs made possible by the railway.

“The Government should incentivise private businesses to set up warehouses adjoining the main railway stations in order to spur cargo trade via railroads,” he stated.

“The re-opening of the rail line to the Northern Province provides healthy competition to road transport services, both cargo and passenger, thereby reducing the transport costs to passengers and businesses alike.

“The resulting reduction in the transaction costs of businesses is likely to benefit consumers by the reduction in prices of consumer goods and services,” he concluded.

If no such integrated plans are made, a familiar refrain will echo in the Vanni, with a large infrastructure project leaving a poverty-stricken community in awe, but in reality no better off than they were before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Billion Tons of Food Wasted Yearly While Millions Still Go Hungryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:56:13 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137084 “We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability” – Ren Wang, FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

“We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability” – Ren Wang, FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

In his parody of the Michael Jackson hit “Beat It”, the American satirist and singer Weird Al Yankovic has a parent urging his son to eat the food on his plate, warning that “other kids are starving in Japan”.

The parody has raised smiles since it was released 30 years ago, but today “Eat It” could be a battle cry for activists trying to reduce the widespread waste of enormous quantities of food, an urgent concern around the world and no laughing matter.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste globally every year. Meanwhile, 805 million of the world’s people are still experiencing chronic undernourishment or hunger, Ren Wang, Assistant Director General of FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, told the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature.“Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world” – SAVE FOOD Initiative

“We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability,” Wang said.

Organised by the Rome-based environmental group Greenaccord and hosted for the second time by the city of Naples from Oct. 8 to 11, this year’s forum – entitled ‘Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment’ – has brought together experts, journalists and policy makers.

It comes as the United Nations’ International Year of Family Farming draws to a close, and as rising food prices continue to pound the incomes of vulnerable groups.

Wang said that although global food production has tripled since 1946 and the world has reduced the prevalence of undernourishment over the past 20 years from 18.7 to 11.3 percent, food security is still a crucial issue.

The food that goes to waste is about one-third of current global food production, so expanding current agricultural output is not necessarily the answer. In fact, the world produces enough food for every individual to have about 2,800 calories each day, according to scientists. But while some people are able to waste food, others do not have enough.

Even if waste and hunger might not be directly related, there is unquestionable inequality in the world’s food system, said Gary Gardner, a senior fellow with the Worldwatch Institute, a research and outreach institute that focuses on sustainable policies.

“In wealthy countries, food waste often occurs at the level of the retailer or consumer, either at the grocery store or at home where a lot of food is thrown away,” he told IPS.

By contrast, food waste in developing countries mainly happens at the “farm or processing” levels, Gardner said. “Food is lost because usually there aren’t systems for getting it to processing facilities and then to the consumer efficiently.”

Food losses and waste amount to roughly 680 billion dollars in industrialised countries and 310 billion dollars in developing countries, according to the SAVE FOOD Initiative, a project involving the German trade fair group Messe Düsseldorf in collaboration with FAO and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Saying that “consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”, the SAVE FOOD initiative found that “even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.”

In Europe, the vast quantity of food thrown out by supermarkets has sometimes sparked public outrage, especially in countries where it is illegal for people to help themselves to the rejected items.

British supermarket chain Tesco has acknowledged discarding some 28,500 tonnes of food in the first six months of 2013, according to reports, and in Britain overall, an estimated 15 million tonnes of food is wasted annually.

In the United States, agencies estimate that roughly 40 percent of the food produced is discarded in landfills, with supermarkets accounting for much of this.

Yet, on both sides of the Atlantic, people can be prosecuted for taking food from dumpsters – a sore point with some activists who have organised public campaigns that offer meals cooked from thrown-away food.

At the Naples forum, where experts discussed the social and environmental consequences of food waste, among other issues, Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute described the experiences of activist Rob Greenfield, who has fed himself entirely from food from dumpsters while cycling across the United States.

“Many times the food was in packages that hadn’t been opened – whole boxes of cereal, sodas, that kind of thing – that for various reasons had been thrown out but which was perfectly good food to him,” Gardner told IPS in an interview.

“That’s not the optimal way for us to get rid of waste,” he added. “The better way would be not to generate that waste in the first place.”

Some solutions

Tesco and several other British supermarket chains have agreed to a programme of waste reduction, and restaurants in several countries are also taking steps not only to decrease the waste but to turn it into biogas to be used for energy.

Gardner told IPS that instead of throwing away food, supermarkets should be looking at donating produce to local organisations such as soup kitchens, although it would be better if they “weren’t generating the waste to begin with.”

On biogas, some speakers said that using food or household waste for energy at the local level could contribute to wider environmental solutions, but again the main aim should be to stem the creation of waste.

“Food security and climate change have certain challenges in common,” said Adriana Opromollo, international advocacy officer for food security and climate change at Caritas Internationalis, a federation of charity organisations.

“At the local level, we have seen where using food or household waste can be a successful strategy. But we have to focus on solutions that are tailored to the particular context,” she told IPS.

The ways to reduce waste can begin simply. Some U.S. food services companies found that by providing only plates (without accompanying trays), in school cafeterias, students were encouraged to take only the food they could consume, consequently throwing away 25 percent less waste.

Perhaps schools should record another version of “Eat It” for lunch hour.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Acid Oceans Could Deal Heavy Blow to Fishing-Dependant Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:05:36 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137080 The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Scientists here are warning Caribbean countries, where the fisheries sector is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance, that they should pay close attention to a new international report released Wednesday on ocean acidification.

The report, published by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), coincides with the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.” -- Dr. Carol Turley

“Ocean acidification can have quite specific impacts on certain fisheries, and so actually ocean acidification is especially important for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fishery or some type of organism,” Dr. S. J. Hennige, the lead editor of the report, told IPS.

“There are variable responses with organisms with regard to ocean acidification, but for the ones which are negatively affected by it, if you are reliant on just that one type of fish then it could have very large impacts and you may have to actually switch to a different organism or something like that.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In the report, an international team of 30 experts, led by UK scientists, has concluded that ocean acidification is already underway, and it is now nearly inevitable that it will worsen, causing widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and on the goods and services they provide.

David Obura, director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said food security, in the Caribbean and other regions of the world where there is heavy reliance on the fisheries sector, is threatened.

“Ocean acidification changes the chemistry of the sea water which means that how fish grow is affected and usually negatively,” Obura told IPS. “So productivity will go down or the certainty of knowing what the output is going to be, how much food is produced, is less certain so it undermines the production system.”

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that a lot more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, it has now been established that many marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with consequences for human society.

Hennige said there are already examples, in the U.S., where an oyster fishery is being impacted by ocean acidification. He said the underlying cause of the problem is carbon dioxide.

“The more carbon dioxide is released from all our fossil fuels into the atmosphere, the more will dissolve in the ocean,” he explained.

“There are practices which can be put in place to offset it on a temporary basis, but the underlying problem is there is still more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and this problem is only going to get worse if we continue.

“It’s not a problem that is being caused by the Caribbean, this is a global problem and it’s a global solution that’s needed,” Hennige added.

Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), told IPS that everything in the report applies to the Caribbean situation.

“Ocean acidification is a worrying phenomenon because it means that seawater, as a supporting medium for life, is changing in a very fundamental manner. Since the ocean ecosystem is so complex, it is not possible to predict the impacts with certainty, but it is certain that the impacts will be significant for tropical islands, especially those which have built their economies based on the health and beauty of their local coral reef ecosystems,” she said.

“As coral reefs begin to decline, this will affect many traditional Caribbean fisheries targeting reef fishes, such as snapper, grouper, parrot fish, etc. that depend on the coral reefs for their food, shelter and survival.

“Also, there would likely be declines in the health and survival of animals that grow carbonate shells such as queen conch, which support very important multi-million-dollar commercial fisheries in the Caribbean. With so fundamental a change in seawater chemistry, it is also possible that other forms of ocean life, as we know them today, could be affected ultimately and irreversibly,” Singh-Renton noted.

The report’s authors said the exact magnitude of the ecological and financial costs is still uncertain, due to complex interactions with other human-driven environmental changes.

They said risks to coral reefs are highlighted in the CBD, due in part to the crucial role they have in helping support the livelihoods of around 400 million people.

Hennige said that the by the end of this century, the economic loss caused by ocean acidification would be “a trillion dollars”.

His colleague, Dr. Carol Turley, a contributing author to the report, said the downward spiral could be reversed but urgent action and funding are needed.

“Who can measure acidification? It’s really developed countries that can measure it so we need to start exporting that knowledge to countries like the Caribbean, to countries like the small island developing states,” she told IPS.

“And that’s where financing comes in because as scientists we can collaborate and give you knowledge but we need financing so that we can help you set up monitoring.

“I am worried that we are too slow. We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.”

In 2013, experts warned that the acidity of the world’s oceans may increase by 170 percent by the end of the century, bringing significant economic losses. The scientists said then that marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, with far-reaching consequences for humans.

They also warned that economic losses from declines in shellfish aquaculture and the degradation of tropical coral reefs may be substantial owing to the sensitivity of molluscs and corals to ocean acidification.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Youth Employment Critical to Sustainable Development in Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 05:54:01 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137077 In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

The size of the youth population in the Pacific Islands is double the global average with 54 percent aged below 24 years, creating enormous challenges for slow-growing small island economies unable to create jobs fast enough.

Generating employment opportunities for tens of thousands of school leavers is now an urgent issue on the Pacific’s post-2015 development agenda. Otherwise a poor landscape of opportunity could jeopardise the potential of a generation whose public and economic participation is vital to progressing sustainable development in the region.

Youth unemployment is estimated at 23 percent in the Pacific Islands region, rising to 46 percent in the Solomon Islands and 62 percent in the Marshall Islands, compared to the global average of 12.6 percent.

"[Institutions] are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled." -- Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa
“Youth unemployment in this country is critical and one of our highest priorities,” Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa, a South Pacific Island developing state located northeast of Fiji, told IPS.

Approximately one quarter of Samoa’s population of 190,372 is employed and economically active and youth account for about half of the remaining unemployed, according to government statistics.

“In the villages, I think that is where most of the youth are static, but there is also a very noticeable shift with urbanisation that is causing a number of youth to come to Apia and they are becoming idle,” she continued.

Lack of sufficient job creation is affecting both young people who lack adequate education, as well as those who possess qualifications and experience. The only route for many of the latter is emigration to larger economies, such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

With 76 percent of those with a tertiary education leaving, the country is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ and 44.7 percent of private sector employers are experiencing skills shortages, reports the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, fisheries, tourism and remittances, has been severely impacted in the last 20 years by natural disasters. In 2012 Cyclone Evan devastated infrastructure and crops resulting in economic losses equal to 30 percent of GDP.

The global financial crisis also led to widespread formal sector job cuts in Samoa with waged employment declining from 28,179 in 2006 to 23,365 in 2011 and private sector jobs falling from 16,921 in 2007 to 12,711 in 2010.

Only one-quarter to one-third of Pacific Islanders finishing school are likely to secure formal sector employment, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This leaves a high proportion of an estimated more than 5,000 school leavers each year vulnerable to exclusion in Samoa, where formal sector employment is around 30 percent.

The social impacts of high teenage pregnancies and a low secondary school completion rate, with an estimated 35 percent of this age group in Samoa not in education, are also aggravating factors.

Fruean believes the main reason is the inability of families to pay school fees and suggests the government’s introduction last year of fee-free secondary education will help improve the final year retention rate of 48 percent.

But there are also questions about the quality and relevance of education for employment demand.

Institutions “are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled,” Fruean explained.

Somaya Moll, business, investment and technology expert with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), advocates private sector development, which “basically enables people to take charge of their own lives [by giving] them the tools to do so.”

“Self-sufficiency, ownership and accountability are important and it is proven to work,” she told IPS during the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) recently held in Samoa’s capital, Apia.

The small size of Pacific islands and their populations is a drawback for ‘economies of scale’, keeping costs of production high. But Moll said introducing entrepreneurship awareness into school curriculums and encouraging financial institutions to consider the creditworthiness of young people could improve the business environment.

The informal economy, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean regions, is a potential growth area, say regional experts.

“It has always been an important source of sustainability [in the Caribbean],” Dessima Williams from Grenada and UNIDO Senior Policy Advisor said during an interview at the U.N. SIDS conference.

“And what has happened recently is that as the formal sector has crashed, more and more other people are entering the informal sector” as are “young people coming out of college who are finding no jobs in the formal sector,” Williams added.

Fruean sees the same potential in Samoa where two-thirds of young people are making a living through informal activities.

“There is so much potential in the informal and agricultural sectors and we encourage the unemployed youth to become economically active in these sectors”, for example, through organic farming or creative production. The cultural and creative industries in the Pacific are reportedly growing at about seven percent per year.

Also “the solution of co-operatives is coming back because the cost of production is so high. A lot of young people [in the Caribbean] are producing music all together, or somebody is writing it and somebody is mixing it, so it is sustainable,” Williams said.

But if the informal sector is to play a role in sustainable and decent job creation, training, skills, working conditions, value addition and production standards need to be improved, she continued. Low productive subsistence activities also need to be up-scaled and developed with greater market orientation and potential for export explored, where feasible. In the agricultural sector alone, which accounts for two thirds of the workforce, only one quarter of production is for the market with the remainder for domestic consumption.

Many young people in the informal sector don’t have experience of budgeting and managing their money, and this is an important area of awareness that needs to be addressed, too, according to the Samoan National Youth Council.

Efforts to galvanise the potential of Pacific Islander youth must be expanded to prevent increased poverty and inequality in the next generation and the social fallout of disaffection when aspirations for productive lives are not fulfilled.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Fracking Fractures Argentina’s Energy Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 22:19:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137074 Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Unconventional oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina hold out the promise of energy self-sufficiency and development for the country. But the fracking technique used to extract this treasure from underground rocks could be used at a huge cost.

The landscape begins to change when you get about 100 km from Neuquén, the capital of the province of the same name, in southwest Argentina. In this area, dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of Patagonia”, fruit trees are in bloom and vineyards stretch out green towards the horizon, in the early southern hemisphere springtime.

But along the roads, where there is intense traffic of trucks hauling water, sand, chemicals and metallic structures, oil derricks and pump stations have begun to replace the neat rows of poplars which form windbreaks protecting crops in the southern region of Patagonia.

“Now there’s money, there’s work – we’re better off,” truck driver Jorge Maldonado told Tierramérica. On a daily basis he transports drill pipes to Loma Campana, the shale oil and gas field that has become the second-largest producer in Argentina in just three years.“That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.” -- Carolina García

It is located in Vaca Muerta, a geological formation in the Neuquén basin which is spread out over the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Mendoza. Of the 30,000 sq km area, the state-run YPF oil company has been assigned 12,000 sq km in concession, including some 300 sq km operated together with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

Vaca Muerta has some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale oil and gas, found at depths of up to 3,000 metres.

A new well is drilled here every three days, and the demand for labour power, equipment, inputs, transportation and services is growing fast, changing life in the surrounding towns, the closest of which is Añelo, eight km away.

“Now I can provide better for my children, and pay for my wife’s studies,” said forklift operator Walter Troncoso.

According to YPF, Vaca Muerta increased Argentina’s oil reserves ten-fold and its gas reserves forty-fold, which means this country will become a net exporter of fossil fuels.

But tapping into unconventional shale oil and gas deposits requires the use of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which YPF prefers to refer to as “hydraulic stimulation”.

According to the company, the technique involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and “a small quantity of additives” into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Víctor Bravo, an engineer, says in a study published by the Third Millennium Patagonia Foundation, that some 15 fractures are made in each well, with 20,000 cubic metres of water and some 400 tons of diluted chemicals.

The formula is a trade secret, but the estimate is that it involves “some 500 chemical substances, 17 of which are toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 of which have acute toxic effects, and eight of which are proven to be carcinogenic,” he writes. He adds that fracking fluids and the gas itself can contaminate aquifers.

Neuquén province lawmaker Raúl Dobrusin of the opposition Popular Union bloc told Tierrámerica: “The effect of this contamination won’t be seen now, but in 15 or 20 years.”

During Tierramérica’s visit to Loma Campana, Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional resources, played down these fears, saying the parent-rock formations are 3,000 metres below the surface while the groundwater is 200 to 300 metres down.

“The water would have to leak thousands of metres up. It can’t do that,” he said.

Besides, the “flowback water”, which is separated from the oil or gas, is reused in further “hydraulic stimulation” operations, while the rest is dumped into “perfectly isolated sink wells,” he argued. “The aquifers do not run any risk at all,” he said.

But Dobrusin asked “What will they do with the water once the well is full? No one mentions that.”

According to Bizzotto, the seismic intensity of the hydraulic stimulation does not compromise the aquifers either, because the fissures are produced deep down in the earth. Furthermore, he said, the wells are layered with several coatings of cement and steel.

“We want to draw investment, generate work, but while safeguarding nature at the same time,” Neuquén’s secretary of the environment, Ricardo Esquivel, told Tierramérica.

In his view, “there are many myths” surrounding fracking, such as the claim that so much water is needed that water levels in the rivers would go down.

Neuquén, he said, uses five percent of the water in its rivers for irrigation, human consumption and industry, while the rest flows to the sea. Even if 500 wells a year were drilled, only one percent more of the water would be used, he maintained.

But activist Carolina García with the Multisectorial contra el Fracking group told Tierrámerica: “That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.”

She pointed out that fracking is questioned in the European Union and that in August Germany adopted an eight-year moratorium on fracking for shale gas while it studies the risks posed by the technique.

YPF argues that these concerns do not apply to Vaca Muerta because it is a relatively uninhabited area.

“The theory that this is a desert and can be sacrificed because no one’s here is false,” said Silvia Leanza with the Ecosur Foundation.

“There are people, the water runs, and there is air flowing here,” she commented to Tierramérica. “The emissions of gases and suspended dust particles can reach up to 200 km away.”

Nor does the “desert theory” ring true for Allen, a town of 25,000 people in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, which is suffering the effects of the extraction of another form of unconventional gas, tight gas sands, which refers to low permeability sandstone reservoirs that produce primarily dry natural gas.

In that fruit-growing area, 20 km from the provincial capital, the fruit harvest is shrinking as the number of gas wells grows, drilled by the U.S.-based oil company Apache, whose local operations in Argentina were acquired by YPF in March.

Apache leases farms to drill on, the Permanent Comahue Assembly for Water (APCA) complained.

“Going around the farms it’s easy to see how the wells are occupying what was fruit-growing land until just a few years ago. Allen is known as the ‘pear capital’, but now it is losing that status,” lamented Gabriela Sepúlveda, of APCA Allen-Neuquén.

A well exploded in March, shaking the nearby houses. It wasn’t the first time, and it’s not the only problem the locals have had, Rubén Ibáñez, who takes care of a greenhouse next to the well, told Tierramérica. “Since the wells were drilled, people started feeling dizzy and having sore throats, stomach aches, breathing problems, and nausea,” he said.

“They periodically drill wells, a process that lasts around a month, and then they do open-air flaring. I’m no expert, but I feel sick,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink this water even if I was dying of thirst….when I used it to water the plants in the greenhouse they would die.”

The provincial government says there are constant inspections of the gas and oil deposits.

“In 300 wells we did not find any environmental impact that had created a reason for sanctions,” environment secretary Esquivel said.

“We have a clear objective: for Loma Campana, as the first place that unconventional fossil fuels are being developed in Argentina, to be the model to imitate, not only in terms of cost, production and technique, but in environmental questions as well,” Bizzotto said.

“All technology has uncertain consequences,” Leanza said. “Why deny it? Let’s put it up for debate.”

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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Displacement Spells Danger for Pregnant Women in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 12:41:56 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137065 A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.

In northern Pakistan, a military campaign aimed at ridding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Taliban militants has led to a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

When the army began conducting air raids on the 11,585-square-km North Waziristan Agency on Jun. 15, residents were forced to flee – most of them on foot – to the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where they have now taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps.

“In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.” -- Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Officials estimate the number of displaced at just over 580,000, of which half are women.

In the ancient city of Bannu, which now houses the largest number of refugees, some 40,000 pregnant women are facing up to their ultimate fear: a lack of hospitals, doctors and basic medical supplies.

For 30-year-old Tajdara Bibi, a mother of three, these fears became a reality in June, when she had to flee her home in North Waziristan and trudge the 55 km to KP along with her fellow villagers.

The journey wore her down, and by the time she was admitted to the maternity hospital in Bannu, the doctors were too late: she delivered a stillborn baby a few hours later.

Muhammad Sarwar, who attended to Bibi, told IPS that an extreme shortage of female doctors has put pregnant women on a knife’s edge.

“At least four women died of pregnancy-related complications on the way to Bannu, while 20 others had miscarriages at the hospital,” he said.

“We have only four female doctors in the whole district, who are required to provide treatment to all the women,” he added.

With thousands of women now clamouring for care, the province’s limited healthcare services are falling short, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Gul Rehman, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, is still reeling from a recent tragedy. He told IPS his wife went into labour prematurely during the arduous journey to Bannu.

“We could not find transport so we had to walk. When we finally reached the hospital, we were kept waiting… there were no doctors readily available.

“After 10 hours, they finally operated on my wife – but the baby was already dead,” he explained. Aside from the trauma of losing their child, the couple is also struggling to cope with the wife’s health condition, which has deteriorated rapidly after the stillbirth.

According to Fawad Khan, Health Cluster and Emergency Coordinator for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, existing health facilities are not equipped to deal with the wave of arrivals from North Waziristan.

The WHO is currently assisting the KP health department to “prevent unnecessary deaths”, the official told IPS, adding that 73 percent of displaced women and children in Bannu are in “desperate need of care.”

Some 30 percent of pregnant women among IDPs are at risk of delivery-related complications, a situation that could easily be addressed by upgrading existing facilities. There is also an urgent need for gynaecologists to provide antenatal and postnatal care, he stated.

Twelve health centres have already been established to tackle malnutrition among women and children in the camps. Without proper nourishment, officials fear pregnant women will face additional complications during birth, and low birth-weight among newborns could create additional challenges for health workers.

“Four percent of the total displaced women are pregnant and need immediate attention,” Abdul Waheed, KP’s director-general of health, told IPS, adding that some 20 basic health units have already been strengthened to take on those most in need.

Still, the crisis has reached proportions that even seasoned officials are scarcely able to comprehend. Waheed explained that Bannu has never before had to host such a large population of homeless people, and is struggling to cope.

Prior to the recent wave of refugees from North Waziristan, the KP province had already welcomed over 1.5 million people from FATA. This latest influx brings the number of displaced since 2001 to over 2.5 million.

“We are sending doctors from teaching hospitals in Peshawar [capital of KP] on a rotational basis to meet the situation,” he asserted.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined the WHO in supporting the Pakistan government’s push for improved health services. Some 65 doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad have joined NGO workers in Bannu to provide urgent care.

Part of the problem, according to Ali Ahmed, KP’s focal person for IDPs, is that few medical professionals are keen to take up posts in the militancy-infested region. For years the Taliban have operated with impunity in these federal areas, hiding out along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that stretches for some 2,400 km.

The military’s counter-insurgency programme was launched in a bid to finally wipe out extremist elements that fled Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took root along the porous border.

But until the region regains a sense of normalcy, it will be hard to lure professionals here, officials say. Despite being offered lucrative packages, doctors have refused to take up posts, even temporarily, in Bannu.

The government is looking to fill this gap by appointing 10 doctors, including five female doctors, to the newly renovated Women and Children Hospital, which remains understaffed and ill equipped.

The city’s other two category ‘B’ hospitals, the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital (KGTH) and the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital, suffer similar setbacks, while the arrival of the IDPs has more than tripled the number of patients demanding services, Ahmed said.

Three rural health centres in close proximity to the refugee camps, as well as 34 basic health units, have received an injection of funds and resources, and 20 assistant nutritional officers have been deployed to cater to the needs of 41 percent of affected children, he told IPS.

But far greater efforts will be needed to tackle the crisis, which is compounding an already bleak picture of maternal health in Pakistan.

Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert here in KP, told IPS, “In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Most Nations Reducing Worst Forms of Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:27:27 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137061 Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labour, according to a major report released here Tuesday by the U.S. Labour Department.

In its annual assessment of progress toward eliminating that kind of exploitation, the 958-page report found that roughly half of the 140-some countries and foreign territories covered by the report had made what it called “moderate” advances in the field.“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts." -- U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez

Thirteen countries – most of them in Latin America — were found to have made “significant” progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labour during 2013 compared to the year before.

But another 13 nations and territories, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, were found to have made none at all.

“This report shines a light on children around the globe who are being robbed of their futures, who spend their days and often their nights engaged in some of the most gruelling work imaginable,” said U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez, at the release of the ‘2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor’.

“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts searching for precious minerals from which someone else will profit,” he said. “Children with munitions strapped to their bodies, pressed into service as combatants in armed conflicts; children who are victims of trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The report, which consists mainly of specific profiles of the child labour situation and what national governments are doing about it in specific countries and territories that benefit under the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) or other trade-boosting programmes, such as the Andean Trade Preference Act or the African Growth and Opportunities Act, has been mandated by Congress since 2002. The report also recommends steps governments can take to improve the situation.

It gains widespread praise from labour and child-welfare activist groups that use it as a way to raise public consciousness and as a source of pressure on foreign governments to do more to eliminate it.

While the Labour Department itself cannot take punitive action against unresponsive governments, the report can influence actions by other U.S. agencies, such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that can, for example, reduce or eliminate trade benefits in cases of serious violations of international labour conventions.

“Overall, this report has been a fantastic tool for the advocacy community,” said Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which includes more than two dozen labour, church, consumer, and human rights groups. “It gives us something to measure progress each year and allows countries to compare their performance with others.”

“I think the report is a tremendous achievement,” Brian Campbell of the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) told IPS. He praised, in particular, its treatment of Uzbekistan, whose government has long been criticised for forcing school students to take part in the cotton harvest.

“They demonstrated a lot of courage …by making very clear that not only have children been taken out of school, but also that the whole system is based on forced labour by the government,” he said. “The challenge will be for the other U.S. government agencies to take on this analysis – including the Customs Service which is required to ban imports produced by forced labour.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the “worst forms of child labour” as all forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, child trafficking, and forced recruitment of children in armed conflicts; the use of children for prostitution or pornography; their use of illicit activities, such as the production or trafficking of drugs; and “hazardous work” which, in turn is defined as any that “jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being” of a child.

According to ILO statistics, the number of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour or whose age is below the minimum prescribed by national law has fallen from about 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012. The latter figure still accounts for roughly one in every 10 children from five to 18 years old worldwide.

The number of children engaged in “hazardous work” halved – from 170 million to 85 million – over the same period, according to the ILO.

The report divided countries into those where advances in eliminating the worst forms of child labour were “significant”, “moderate”, “minimal”, and none. Progress was assessed according to a number of criteria, including the enactment of laws, efforts at enforcement and co-ordination, the adoption of specific policies, and the implementation of social programmes designed to eliminate the problem, and encourage children to remain in school.

The 13 countries whose progress was deemed “significant” included Albania, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda.

The CLC’s Maki, who also serves as the director of child labour advocacy at the National Consumers League, called the list “very encouraging.” “Most of these countries have had a lot of child labour problems in the past,” he told IPS.

He noted that “steady progress” had been made over the last several years, in particular. Since 2011, he said, the number of countries that had made “significant” progress had grown from two to 13, while the number with “moderate” advances had likewise increased from 47 to 72.

Conversely, the number of countries and territories with “minimal” or “no” progress has fallen from 82 to 50 – 20 of which were small islands, such as Anguilla, Barbados, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands with small populations, Maki pointed out.

Besides the DRC, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, the more-significant laggards in the “minimal” category included Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Serbia, South Sudan, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

One weakness of the report, according to ILRF’s Campbell was its failure to address how the private sector – including powerful multinational corporations — contributes to the worst forms of child labour.

“In the Malawi section, for example, the reports focuses at length what the government has done, but it doesn’t address the contract system of production of tobacco, as implemented by U.S. tobacco companies and their subsidiaries, which is a root cause of the child labour problem there,” he said.

“It’s largely because the Labour Department views its Congressional mandate as very limited; i.e., only what the governments are doing,” he said. “I think they could interpret the scope of the report to include other issues, such as the business practices of companies and how they also contribute to the problem.”

But Maki was more reserved. “If you expand the scope of the report to the business world,” he said, “you might muddy things enough to let the governments off the hook.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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