Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Olympic Games – More Media Show than Sports Eventhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:04:20 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146598 Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazil’s first gold medal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics gave it a new multipurpose heroine, Rafaela Silva, whose defeat of the favourites in judo has made her a strong voice against racism and homophobia. Not only is she black and poor, but she just came out as gay.

In her first remarks as an Olympic champion, on Aug. 8, she referred to the harsh criticism she received after being disqualified in the second round of the London Olympics in 2012, when people lashed out against her in the social media, with one saying she was a “monkey who should be in a cage.” Her medal is her vengeance against racism.

It is also an example of a triumph over the poverty and crime that drags down so many young people in the Cidade de Deus, the Rio de Janeiro “favela” or shantytown where she grew up, which was made famous by the film City of God.

Colourful figures like Silva or Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, or unbeatable athletes like U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps,are crucial in the Olympics, which have become a huge global media event, more than the leading international sports competition.

Sheer overkill also plays a key role in the media spectacle. In the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games, 11,552 athletes – eight percent more than in London 2012 – are participating in 306 medal events in 42 disciplines.

But the number of journalists grew even more, by about 20 percent. More than 25,000 accredited reporters are covering Rio 2016, which translates into 2.2 press, TV, radio and internet journalists for each athlete during the 19-day Games.

The Rio Games – the first held in South America – are the most connected Olympics in history, with data traffic and internet activity four times greater than in London.

And while six million tickets were sold for the stadiums, according to the organisers, billions in profits have been made from the spectators watching the Games on TV or over the internet worldwide.

The opening ceremony alone was watched by an estimated three billion people around the globe. The colourful ceremony and its special effects, directed by prize-winning filmmakers, cleared up the doubts about the success of the Games, due to threats like construction delays, the Zika virus epidemic and Brazil’s political and economic crisis.

The filtered view provided by dozens of TV cameras is no substitute for the actual atmosphere of the stadiums, but it makes it possible to see up-close details from different angles, including up above, which is impossible for spectators in the stadiums. And the technological advances constantly improve the experience of watching the Games from far away points on the globe.

Aesthetics is another dimension that colors the competition. It played a role in the inauguration of the Games and its strong presence in some disciplines, like the various gymnastics or diving events, helped minimise the military origins of many Olympic sports, like wrestling or shooting.

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold – on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

But the drama seen in many of the contests is perhaps the central element of the Olympic media spectacle.

More people remember Swiss long-distance runner Gabriela Andersen’s struggle to finish the 1984 Olympic marathon in 37th place, staggering with heat exhaustion in the final 200 metres, than the actual winner of the marathon in Los Angeles that year.

For the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the inauguration of the Rio 2016 Games, the athlete chosen was Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima, who became famous in Athens in 2004 when an Irish priest shoved him to the side of the road when he was in the lead in the marathon.

A Greek spectator helped free Lima from the grasp of the priest – who was later defrocked – and he continued the race. But he lost time and his rhythm was broken, and he ended in third place. For exemplifying the spirit of sportsmanship he showed by settling for the bronze, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special decoration that carries the name of the founder of the IOC.

The footage of the incident, broadcast over and over around the world, made Lima an Olympics symbol.

The show needs heroes. National ones abound; sometimes winning a medal is all it takes. So far in Rio 2016, there are many examples.

Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi will surely provide a major boost to the eight-year-old Kosovo’s consolidation as an independent nation now that she has won the country’s first medal – gold. In 2012 she competed under the Albanian flag.

Fiji as well won its first medal – also gold – in Rugby Sevens, which debuted in these Games as an Olympic sport. (Rugby union was played at the Olympics from 1900 to 1924.)

Puerto Rico, an associated free state of the United States, with its own delegation in the Olympics, also took its first gold medal in Rio, won by Monica Puig in tennis.

The IOC recognizes 208 national committees, surpassing the 193 members of the United Nations. Some participants in the Olympics are not independent states, as in the case of Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, the Virgin Islands or American Samoa.

Dramatic incidents like the one involving Vanderlei de Lima also give rise to Olympic heroes, who add to the show.

Etenesh Diro of Ethiopia was cheered when she completed the 3,000-metre steeplechase, even though she finished seventh. She had pulled off her shoe when it was torn in a tangle with other competitors and continued on, barefoot.

But although she didn’t qualify for the final, the authorities rewarded spots in the race to her and two others who fell.

Heroes are generally individuals. Maybe that’s why football didn’t overshadow the Games – a worry that was apparently behind some restrictions set on participating in the sport, which is wildly popular in Brazil, such as a 23-year age limit, with three exceptions.

At any rate, the Olympic audience is guaranteed thanks to the diversity of sports, cultures and dramatic personal or national situations.

The excess of raw material for journalists and for the television and online show and the out of proportion size will make it difficult for another country of the developing South to host the Games in the near future.

Besides aspects linked to the needs and pressures of what is, more than anything, a huge global spectacle, the decision will also be influenced by the problems that cropped up in Rio, like construction delays, urban crime, water pollution, half-empty stadiums, and unsportsmanlike loud booing of some foreign athletes and teams.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

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

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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Peruvians Say “No!” to Violence Against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:13:15 +0000 Aramis Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146561 A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

By Aramis Castro
LIMA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Peruvians took to the streets en masse to reject violence against women, in what was seen as a major new step in awareness-raising in the country that ranks third in the world in terms of domestic sexual violence.

The Saturday Aug. 13 march in Lima and simultaneous protests held in nearly a dozen other cities and towns around the country, includingCuzco, Arequipa and Libertad,was a reaction tolenient court sentences handed down in cases of femicide – defined as the violent and deliberate killing of a woman – rape and domestic violence.

The case that sparked the demonstrations was that of Arlette Contreras, who was beaten in July 2015 by her then boyfriendin the southern city of Ayacucho, Adriano Pozo, in an attack that was caught on hotel cameras.“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety.” -- Arlette Contreras

Despite the evidence – the footage of the attack – Pozo, the son of a local politician, was merely given a one-year suspended sentence for rape and attempted femicide, because of “mitigating factors”: the fact that he was drunk and jealous. When a higher court upheld the sentence in July, the prosecutor described the decision as “outrageous”.

“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety,” Contreras told IPS during the march to the palace of justice in Lima, which was headed by victims and their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Peru is in second place in Latin America in terms of gender-based killings, and in a multi-country study on sexual intimate partner violence, it ranked third.

“Enough!”, “The judiciary, a national disgrace”, “You touch one of us, you touch us all”were some of the chants repeated during the march, in which some 100,000 people took part according to the organisers of the protest, which emerged over the social networks and was not affiliated with any political party or movement, although President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and members of his government participated.

Entire families took part, especially the relatives of victims of femicide, who carried signs with photos and the names of the women who have beenkilled and their attackers.

“My daughter was killed, but they only gave her murderer six months of preventive detention,” said Isabel Laines, carrying a sign with a photo of her daughter. She told IPS she had come from the southern department of Ica, over four hours away by bus, to join the protest in Lima.

Other participants in the march were families and victims of forced sterilizations carried out under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). In 2002, a parliamentary investigation commission estimated that more than 346,000 women were sterilised against their will between 1993 and 2000.

In late June, the public prosecutor’s office ruled that Fujimori and his three health ministers were not responsible for the state policy of mass forced sterilisations, and recommended that individual doctors be charged instead.

The ruling enraged those demanding justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of forced sterilization, who are mainly poor, indigenous women.

Over the social networks, the sense of outrage grew as victims told their stories and discovered others who had undergone similar experiences, under the hashtags #YoNoMeCallo (I won’t keep quiet) and #NiUnaMenos (Not one less – a reference to the victims of femicide).

“After seeing the video of Arlette (Contreras), and the indignation when her attacker went free, a group of us organised over Facebook and we started a chat,” one of the organisers of the march and the group Ni UnaMenos, Natalia Iguíñiz, told IPS.

In the first half of this year alone, there were 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides in Peru, according to the Women’s Ministry. The statistics also indicate that on average 16 people are raped every day in this country.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

Between 2009 and 2015, 795 women were the victims of gender-based killings, 60 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 34.

Women’s rights organisations complain that up to now, Peruvian society has been tolerant of gender violence, and they say opinion polls reflect this.

In a survey carried out by the polling company Ipsos in Lima before the march, 41 percent of the women interviewed said Peru was not safe at all for women and 74 percent said they lived in a sexist society.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of men and women surveyed believed, for example, that if a woman wears a mini-skirt it is her fault if she is harassed in public areas, and 76 percent believe a man should be forgiven if he beats his wife for being unfaithful.

Since Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28, the issue of gender violence has been put on the public agenda and different political leaders have called for measures to be taken, such as gender-sensitive training for judicial officers and police, to strengthen enforcement of laws in cases of violence against women.

“The problem of gender violence is that the silence absorbs the blows and it’s not easy for people to report,” said the president before participating in the march along with several ministers, legislators and other authorities.

Iguíñiz said the march represented the start of a new way of tackling the phenomenon of violence against women in Peru, and added that the momentum of the citizen mobilisation would be kept up, with further demonstrations and other activities.

“Thousands of people are organising. We’re a small group that proposes a few basic things, but there are a lot of groups working culturally, in their neighbourhoods, in thousands of actions that are being taken at a national level: districts, vocational institutes, different associations,” she said.

In her view, the call for people to get involved “has had such a strong response because it is so broad.”

The movement Ni Una Menoshas organised previous demonstrations against violence against women in other Latin American countries, like Argentina, where a mass protest was held in the capital in June 2015.

“We are in coordination with people involved in the group in other countries,” said Iguíñiz.“We’re going to create a platform for petitions but we’re planning to do it at a regional level, in all of the countries of Latin America.”

The private Facebook group “Ni UnaMenos: movilización ya” (Not one less: mobilisation now), which started organising the march in July, now has some 60,000 members, and was the main coordinator of the demonstrations, although conventional media outlets and human rights groups later got involved as well.

In addition, hundreds of women who have suffered abuse, sexual attacks or harassment at work began to tell their stories online, in an ongoing process.

Peruvians abroad held activities in support of the march in cities like Barcelona, Geneva, London, Madrid and Washington.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar and Jaime Vargas in Lima

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Women’s Inclusion in Sports Competes in Rio Gameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 07:14:20 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146523 Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, 14, plays basketball in the Olympic Villa in Mangueira, a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, and participates in U.N. Women’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, 14, plays basketball in the Olympic Villa in Mangueira, a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, and participates in U.N. Women’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

At the age of 14, Kaillana de Oliveira of Brazil knows she won’t be as tall as most professional basketball players, because of family genetics. But she is not letting that get in the way of her dream of standing out in the sport.

“I’m point guard, and you don’t have to be so tall for that position,” Oliveira, a student at the Olympic Villa – a multi-purpose sports complex – in the poor Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Mangueira, told IPS.

That public sports facility produced three of the players on Brazil’s women’s national basketball team, which is competing in the Aug. 5-22 Rio 2016 Olympics.

Oliveira trains at least four days a week, “for three hours, sometimes more.” She gets up at 5 AM to attend a school in a distant neighbourhood, which offered her a scholarship as a promising young athlete. She is disciplined and is in bed by 9 PM.

Oliveira has participated in many tournaments for girls. “Basketball is a fast, dynamic contact sport,” she said. That’s why she chose it five years ago, from the various sports she tried in a complex near the Mangueira “favela” or shantytown, where she lives.

Her family supported her choice, but she faces prejudice among her classmates. “They say it’s for lesbians,” she said.

“I want to be a good player; if I don’t make it, I’ll be a lawyer,” Oliveira told IPS in a conversation on the basketball court where she trains.

She participates in the programme “One Win Leads to Another”, an initiative of U.N. Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) aimed at empowering girls through sports, as a legacy of the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

The programme, based on the Dutch NGO Women Win, includes weekly workshops on issues like self-esteem, leadership, sexual rights, violence and financial planning, as well as sports activities.

It began in Rio de Janeiro and until 2017 will function as a pilot project, with the goal of boosting the autonomy and self-confidence of 2,500 girls between the ages of 10 and 18, as well as 300 adolescent mothers who have dropped out of school.

The activities are held in 16 multi-sports complexes called Olympic Villas that the city government has set up in poor neighbourhoods.

The programme will later be adapted to local conditions and expanded to other cities around Brazil and Latin America.

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, Marcelly de Mendonça and Adrielle da Silva are active in the U.N. Women’s and International Olympic Committee’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme, standing next to Juliana Azevedo, a vice president in Procter & Gamble, another partner in the initiative, during the presentation of the programme in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, Marcelly de Mendonça and Adrielle da Silva are active in the U.N. Women’s and International Olympic Committee’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme, standing next to Juliana Azevedo, a vice president in Procter & Gamble, another partner in the initiative, during the presentation of the programme in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Women Win, a U.N. Women partner, developed the original programme, which has already been implemented in 25 countries.

A survey found that of 217,000 participants, the proportion of girls who saw themselves as leaders increased from 46 to 89 percent, and the proportion of those who know how to avoid getting pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted disease rose threefold, to 79 and 77 percent, respectively.

The initiative also seeks to expand access among teenage girls to the benefits of sports. Around the world, 49 percent of girls quit practicing sports when they hit puberty – six times the proportion for boys, which aggravates gender inequality, according to U.N. Women.

“The power of sport should never be underestimated. It can change lives, through increasing girls’ and young women’s beliefs in their own abilities, encouraging them to take initiative and aim high,” U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the Aug. 6 presentation of “One Win Leads to Another” in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the big challenges the programme has taken on “is leveling the playing field for men and women,” the representative of U.N. Women in Brazil, Nadine Gasman, told IPS. “In the Rio Olympic games, women make up 46 percent of the competitors, and there are no sports that do not include women, but the difference in resources is appalling.”

“Ten national Olympic committees include no women, and very few are on the International Olympic Committee,” which means they have less of an influence on sports, she said. “Women are also less visible on TV sports channels, where the broadcasting of men’s sports wins 10 to one, with the exception of the Olympics.”

The history of the Olympic Games reflects women’s struggle for inclusion. Women were absent from the first modern-era edition, in 1896 in Athens. In the next Games, in Paris in 1900, the only women’s sports were tennis and golf, and women made up just 2.2 percent of the total number of participants – 22 out of 997.

The proportion only climbed above 10 percent after 1952, growing to 44.2 percent in 2012, after women’s boxing was finally accepted as an Olympic sport.

But inequality persists. The funds earmarked by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the national teams that participated in the men’s 2014 World Cup, also hosted by Brazil, were 40 times greater than the amount that went to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Gasman pointed out.

Teenage basketball players training in an Olympic Villa, one of the sports complexes created by the Rio de Janeiro city government, in the “favela” or shantytown of Mangueira, close to the installations where the Olympic Games are being held. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Teenage basketball players training in an Olympic Villa, one of the sports complexes created by the Rio de Janeiro city government, in the “favela” or shantytown of Mangueira, close to the installations where the Olympic Games are being held. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The women’s winning team’s prize was smaller than the amount that went to the team that came in last in the FIFA World Cup, reflecting the discrimination still suffered by women athletes, she added.

But in the Olympics, the imbalance is being reduced more quickly. In 1995 the Women in Sport Commission was created in the IOC, to advise the executive board and president on how to expand women’s participation in decision-making and how to develop and implement the IOC women and sports policy.

Since 2004, women have served as vice president of the IOC, and since March this year, at least one-third of the members of the IOC working groups are women.

But cultural and social prejudice continues to hinder progress towards gender equality in the practice and administration of sports.

Adolescence is a critical period of physical changes and peer pressure. That is why it is essential to intervene at that time, as “One Win Leads to Another” does, “to keep girls in sports, which helps them prepare for life at the same time,” said Gasman.

In Brazil, the rate at which girls drop out of sports at puberty is lower than the international average reported by U.N. Women and the IOC, but it is still worrisome.

A survey carried out by the Ministry of Sports in 2013 found that 34.8 percent of girls quit sports before the age of 15, compared to 19.3 percent of boys.

But this is not true in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Villa sports complexes. “We have more girls than boys, and they stay throughout adolescence. But they prefer ballet, jazz or rhythmic gymnastics,” said Norma Marinho, a social assistant at the Miécimo da Silva Sports Centre in Campo Grande, a huge working class neighborhood west of Rio de Janeiro.

The idea that certain sports are for boys keeps girls away from track and field and many other disciplines. “They crowd into ballet classes, even if the teacher is a man,” said Marilda Veloso, who teaches handball at the sports complex, where 13,000 students and other people are active in 28 different sports.

Factors that lead girls to drop out are “embarrassment about their bodies, household chores, and prejudices,” although fewer are quitting these days, Veloso, who has worked at the sports centre for 30 years, told IPS.

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War on Climate Terror (II): Fleeing Disasters, Escaping Drought, Migratinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-ii-fleeing-disasters-escaping-drought-migrating/#comments Thu, 11 Aug 2016 16:13:57 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146520 Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

Young, new arrivals from Sudan’s Darfur region endure a sandstorm in the border town of Bamina, eastern Chad. Rainfall in this region has been in decline since 1950. This, coupled with deforestation, has had a devastating effect on the environment. Credit: ©UNHCR/H.Caux

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 11 2016 (IPS)

“No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes.”

Hardly a short, simply-worded statement could so sharply describe the ignored human drama of millions of victims of man-made wars, violence, poverty and disasters like the one spelled out by the authoritative voice of Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, the former rector of United Nations University, a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation headquartered in Japan.

But while widespread violence and climate catastrophes are common to all continents and countries, there is an overwhelming consensus among experts, scientific community and international specialised organisations that Africa is the most impacted region by them.

Only second to Asia, both extension and population wise, Africa is on the one hand home to nearly half of some 40 on-going armed conflicts. On the other, this continent made of 54 states and 1,2 billion inhabitants, is the most hit region by all sorts of consequences of growing climate change—to which by the way it is the least originator.

Key Facts

The cause-effect relationship between climate and massive population movement is already an indisputable fact. See what world specialised organisations say:

1. – Droughts combined with population growth, a lack of sustainable land and water management, natural disasters, political conflicts and tensions and other factors have resulted in massive population movements across Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports.

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Somali refugees flee flooding in Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camps are situated in areas prone to both drought and flooding, making life for the refugees and delivery of assistance by UNHCR challenging. Credit:©UNHCR/B.Bannon

Displacement in Africa is the result of a multitude of causes including struggles for political power, communal violence, disputes over land, floods, storms and other such natural hazards, it adds. More than half of the world’s fragile states are in sub-Saharan Africa, and some of these states have the largest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015.”

In short, “the relationship between displacement and the environment is well established in Africa. People leave places with slow-onset environmental degradation, such as drought and desertification and continue to flee rapid on-set environmental emergencies such as tropical storms and flash floods,” says Saidou Hamani, Regional Coordinator for Disasters and Conflict sub-programme, UNEP Regional Office for Africa.

2. – According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, there were 27.8 million new displacements in 127 countries during 2015, roughly the equivalent of the populations of New York City, London, Paris and Cairo combined; of the total, 8.6 million were associated with conflicts and violence in 28 countries, while 19.2 million were associated with disasters in 113 countries.

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

Famine refugees in East Africa are caught in a dust storm. Photo credit: flickr/Oxfam International

The growing intensity of meteorological disasters due to climate change, coupled with the effects of environmental degradation is likely to continue being a factor behind human displacement.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) predicts there will be 200 million environmentally-displaced people by the year 2050 with major effects on countries of origin, transit countries, as well as receiving countries.

Individuals and communities displaced by disasters and climate change and those displaced by conflicts often experience similar trauma and deprivation. They may have protection needs and vulnerabilities comparable to those whose displacement is provoked by armed violence or human rights abuses. “Climate change is expected to further exacerbate the stress that fragile states are already facing.”“Africa has more countries affected by displacement than any other continent or region, and was home to more than 15 million internally displaced persons in 2015” - UNEP

In Africa, environmental degradation and food insecurity are related to floods and other factors such as diminishing pasture for cattle as well as water, firewood and other natural resource scarcities, says IOM. Such factors contribute to displacement, resulting in increasing competition for scarce resources, which also contributes to armed conflict, particularly between pastoralists and sedentary communities.

This is especially pronounced in the Sahel (Lake Chad Basin), Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, all of which have large pastoralist populations who migrate according to seasonal patterns and climatic variations.

Future forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate. This figure equals the current estimate of international migrants worldwide.

3. – “Changes in the regional climate are impacting issues linked to the availability of natural resources essential to livelihoods in the region, as well as food insecurity. Along with important social, economic and political factors, this can lead to migration, conflict or a combination of the two,” according to Livelihood Security Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel.

4. – It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) reports.

“The number of storms, droughts and floods has increased threefold over the last 30 years with devastating effects on vulnerable communities, particularly in the developing world.”

“Climate change and the environment have a big impact on the lives of millions of forcibly uprooted people around the world.”

Many of them rely on the environment for survival, particularly during emergencies – for food, shelter, energy, fire and warmth, medicine, agriculture, income-generation activities and more, adds UNHCR.

“Unsustainable use of natural resources can lead to environmental degradation, with lasting impacts on natural resources and on the well-being of the displaced and host communities. Additionally, competition over scarce natural resources, such as firewood, water and grazing land, can lead to friction.”

5. – Gradual changes in the environment tend to have an even greater impact on the movement of people than extreme events. For instance, over the last thirty years, twice as many people have been affected by droughts as by storms (1.6 billion compared with approx. 718m),according to the International Disaster Database.

In 2008, 20 million persons have been displaced by extreme weather events, compared to 4.6 million internally displaced by conflict and violence over the same period.

6. – Disasters and climate change are a growing concern. Since 2009, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with an average of 22.5 million people displaced by climate or weather-related events since 2008, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre www.internal-displacement.org report. (IDMC 2015).

7. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s science advisory board, projects an increase in the number of displaced over the course of this century. The majority of the people of concern to UNHCR are concentrated in the most vulnerable areas around the world.

Climate change will force people into increasing poverty and displacement, exacerbating the factors that lead to conflict, rendering both the humanitarian needs and responses in such situations even more complex.

Now two key related events are scheduled to take place in the coming days: Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, August 15-19, and the World Humanitarian Day, August 19.

Will this growing, unstoppable human drama deserve the attention of world politicians or at least of the mainstream

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False Promises: Avoid ‘Miracle’ Rice and Just Eat a Carrothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/false-promises-avoid-miracle-rice-and-just-eat-a-carrot/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:06:38 +0000 Vandana Shiva 2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146509 TRANSCEND Member Prof. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993. She is executive director of the Navdanya Trust.]]> Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

Vandana Shiva. (Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva film)

By Dr Vandana Shiva
NEW DELHI, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, died on September 9, 2009. Alfred G. Gilman died on December 23, 2015.

Both were Nobel laureates and now both dead. Gilman was a signatory to a recent letter condemning Greenpeace and its opposition to genetic engineering.

How many Nobel laureates does it take to write a letter? Easily ascertained — the dead Gilman and 106 others were enlisted in “supporting GMOs and golden rice”. Correct answer — 107, dead or alive.

The laureates were rounded up by Val Giddings (senior fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation), Jon Entine (author of Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People) and Jay Byrne (former head of corporate communications, Monsanto). Real people don’t have the luxury of getting Nobel laureates to write 1/107th of a letter, “chosen” folk do. Evidently.

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Photo source: Vandana Shiva

Cornell University is a “chosen” institution – central to genetically modified public relations. The Cornell Alliance of Science is funded by Bill Gates, just like the failed golden rice experiment.

The Nobel laureates accuse Greenpeace of killing millions by delaying ghost rice — something the biotech industry accuses me of doing, for the same reason. Unlike golden rice — whose failure to launch is the industry’s own failure, the opposition to genetic engineering (and hence golden rice) is very real and successful.

As Glenn Stone, a rice scientist at Washington University, states: “The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, golden rice is still years away from being ready for release.”
Golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty mono-cultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A…’ - Vandana Shiva

It is Borlaug’s Green Revolution monocultures that contributed to malnutrition by destroying biodiversity, which destroys the diversity of nutrients we need to be healthy. As Navdanya research has shown, biodiversity produces more food and nutrition per acre. Borlaug’s ghost is still shaping the industrial agriculture “miracles” based on monocultures of the mind and spin in place of science.

It is now more than 20 years since the “miracle” golden rice began to be promoted as the excuse to allow patents on life.

The last time golden rice was resurrected when Patrick Moore of Allow Golden Rice Now was sent to Asia to push the failed promise. Women of the world organised and responded to Moore — Diverse Women for Diversity issued a declaration on International Women’s Day in 2015 titled Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, not Corporations and GMOs.

Golden rice is genetically engineered rice with two genes from a daffodil and one gene from a bacterium. The resulting GMO rice is said to have a yellow colouring, which is supposed to increase beta-carotene – a precursor of Vitamin A. It has been offered as a potential miracle cure for Vitamin A deficiency for 20 years.

But golden rice is a false miracle. It is a disease of nutritionally empty monocultures offered as a cure for nutritional deficiency. In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A than the biodiversity alternatives that women have to offer. To get your daily requirement of Vitamin A, all you need to eat is one of the following:

Two tablespoons of spinach or cholai (amaranth) leaves or radish leaves
Four tablespoons of mustard or bathua leaves
One tablespoon of coriander chutney
One-and-a-half tablespoon of mint chutney
One carrot
One mango

So, if you want to be four times more efficient than 107 Nobel laureates, just eat a carrot!

Not only do these indigenous alternatives based on women’s knowledge provide more Vitamin A than golden rice ever will, and at a lower cost, but also provide multiple other nutrients.

Our critique of golden rice is that even if it is developed, it will be inferior to the alternatives women have in their hands and minds. Women are being blocked from growing biodiversity and spreading their knowledge to address malnutrition, by rich and powerful men and their corporations who are blind to the richness of the earth and our cultures.

Through their monoculture of the mind, they keep imposing monocultures of failed technologies, blocking the potential of abundance and nourishment. As I wrote in 2000, blindness to biodiversity and women’s knowledge is a blind approach to blindness prevention.

Grain.org concluded in Grains of delusion: Golden rice seen from the ground, way back in 2001: “The best chance of success in fighting Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition is to better use the inexpensive and nutritious foods already available, and in diversifying food production systems in the fields and in the household.

The euphoria created by the Green Revolution greatly stifled research to develop and promote these efforts, and the introduction of golden rice will further compromise them. Golden rice is merely a marketing event. But international and national research agendas will be taken by it.”

The Giddings-Entine-Byrne Nobel PR stunt was timed to coincide with the US Senate vote on the Dark Act — the denial to Americans of the right to know what they eat. With two decades of the GMO experiment failing to control pests and weeds, creating super pests and super weeds instead, there is now an attempt to push through the “next generation” of GMOs — such as “gene drives” for exterminating nutrient-rich species like the amaranth.

Amaranth, a weed to the 107 Nobel laureates, is a richer source of Vitamin A than golden rice has promised it will be, when it grows up. The laureates would have us round up all the Vitamin A we already have in abundance, create deficiencies by exterminating it with RoundUp, and provide golden rice to alleviate the absence of Vitamin A.

Mr Gates is also supporting this failed miracle, as well as the failed communication through the Cornell Alliance for Science. He also funds the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Harvest Plus, the corporate alliance for biofortification.

The corporate-controlled World Food Prize for 2016 has been announced for “Biofortification”. Scientists funded by Mr Gates have been given the prize for inventing an orange sweet potato. But the Maori in New Zealand had developed kumara, orange (beauregard) sweet potato, centuries ago.

Mr Gates is also funding the biopiracy research of James Dale of Queensland, who took the Vitamin A-rich indigenous bananas of Micronesia and declared them to be his invention.

The biopiracy of people’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge is what Mr Gates is funding. The Gates fortification or Nobel fortification, will not nourish people. Fraud is not food.

Dr Vandana Shiva’s article was published in Go to Original – vandanashiva.comSource: TRANSCEND Media Service

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

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The UN Steps up Efforts to End Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-steps-up-efforts-to-end-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-un-steps-up-efforts-to-end-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-steps-up-efforts-to-end-child-marriage/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 13:02:17 +0000 Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146498 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations]]>

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations

By Babatunde Osotimehin
NEW YORK, Aug 10 2016 (IPS)

Barely 17 years old and from the Gajapati district in Odisha, India, Susmita has never gone to school. She rears the few animals her family owns, and this is her primary duty besides attending to household chores.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

“I have to work in the field, and take the cows out to graze to support my family. When I see other girls from the village going to school, I wish I could experience school for at least a day,” she said when interviewed, “Is anyone out there even thinking of improving our lives?”

It’s hard not to be moved by Susmita’s earnest and important question. This year, more than 60 million 10 year-old girls worldwide will have started their journey through adolescence. Sadly, millions of them will be forced into adult responsibilities.

Puberty brings a whole host of risks to girls’ lives and their bodies, including child marriage and all its consequences. In fact, each day, more than 47,000 girls are married before they turn 18 – a third of them before they turn 15.

Thousands of girls are led away from school and the prospects of decent employment every day. They are often forced to lead a life of domestic servitude and isolation from their family and friends.

In many cases, they are also often subjected to unintended and unsafe pregnancies. The complications from these early pregnancies are among the leading causes of death for adolescent girls aged 15 to 19. In short, they are forced into this life, robbing them of their right to independence, to work and in turn, drive development.

In Odisha, India, where more than one in three girls will be married before 18, it takes serious commitment and investment to ensure that adolescent girls are not condemned to such a life.

Globally, there are significant hurdles to overcome, and we must address the systematic exclusion faced by girls from before birth via gender-biased sex selection, through adolescence with lower rates of transition to secondary school, denial of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (the right to access contraception without parental or spousal consent or the right to quality maternal health care or the recognition of marital rape as a crime, etc.), and loopholes between customary and statutory laws that permit child marriage.

At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we estimate that child marriage is a reality faced by 17.4 million girls each year. But if we speak up and act, there is a possibility for millions of girls to lead a different life, one of their own choosing.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which includes a target on eliminating child marriage, presents us with an historic opportunity to help girls rewrite their futures.

This March, UNFPA and UNICEF launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, which –working together with many girls themselves – will bring us that much closer to delivering on the world’s commitment to ending this practice.

In five years, the programme will support more than 2.5 million adolescent girls at risk of, and affected by child marriage, helping them to express and exercise their choices.

It will empower girls in South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal), the Middle East (Yemen), West and Central Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Niger), Eastern and Southern Africa (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia) with protective health, social and economic independence, and ensure that they can develop their abilities, so as to realize their full potential.

It will also contribute to a demographic dividend, which is the economic growth you can achieve by empowering, educating and employing a country’s youth. Recognizing that girls’ households and communities are of the utmost importance, we will work with them to ensure they invest in their daughters.

As the United Nations, we continue to partner with national governments to improve health, education, and other systems, and to ensure the law protects and promotes girls’ rights, including their sexual and reproductive health.

With the support of UNFPA and countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada, Susmita’s own government, and local partners, she now has the opportunity to participate in a programme designed to help her and her family delay marriage.

Giving her knowledge about her health and rights, the confidence to express herself, a mentor, friends, and the opportunity to enroll in an appropriate school. With this support she can set her life on a different path. We must deliver better for more girls like Susmita, despite the many needs, challenges and crises facing us today, girls’ and women’s rights must remain a priority.

We now know about the kinds of investments needed to uphold these rights. Indeed, this is the foundation for a safer, more equitable and just world, not only for girls, but for all.

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Native Plants Boost Local Diets in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:04:19 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146483 Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities.

“I cook something with ojushte almost every day – pupusas, tamales (seasoned meat packed in cornmeal dough and wrapped and steamed in corn husks) orlittle cakes; it’s an excellent food,” the 65-year-old Salvadoran woman told IPS, standing in her kitchen in San Isidro, a small town of 3,000 people in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

Pupusas are made with thick tortillas and filled with beans, cheese, vegetables or pork.“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing.” -- Ana Morales

Juana Morales has easy access to ojushte (Brosimum alicastrum) because her daughter Ana Morales is the leading local advocate of the nutritional properties of the seed in San Isidro, thanks to the work carried out by a local organisation.

Maná Ojushte is a women’s collective that emerged in San Isidro and began to promote the Maya nut tree and its seeds in 2010, an initiative that received a major boost in 2014 when it began to receive support from the Initiative Fund for the Americas El Salvador (FIAES), a U.S.-Salvadoran environmental conservation organisation.

The seeds of the Ojushte or Maya nut tree are beginning to be used in San Isidro and other communities in this Central American nation as an alternative source of nutrients for rural families, as part of projects designed to fight the impacts of climate change.

Still rare, the tree is found in the Salvadoran countryside, and in pre-Hispanic times it formed an important part of the diet of indigenous peoples throughout Central America and Mexico, said Ana Morales, the head of Maná Ojushte.

The seeds, she explained, contain high levels of protein, iron, zinc, vitamins, folic acid, calcium, fiber and tryptophan, an amino acid, which makes them an excellent addition to the family diet.

“It’s compared to soy, but it has the advantage of being gluten-free and low in fat,” Ana Morales told IPS.

Support from FIAES forms part of the conservation plans for the Apaneca Lamatepec Biosphere Reserve, which covers more than 132,000 hectares in 23 municipalities in the western Salvadoran departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana and Sonsonate.

“With the work in the reserve, we have tried to link cultural aspects with the health and nutrition of local communities, and revive consumption of this seed, which was part of our ancestral heritage,” FIAES territorial coordinator Silvia Flores told IPS.

Maná Ojushte, run by a core group of 10 women, sells Maya nuts, toasted, ground and packaged in quarter and half kilo bags.

The ground toasted seeds can be used to make beverages or can be added to any dish, like rice or soup, as a nutritional complement. They can also be used to make dough, for tamales, bread or tortillas. And the cooked nuts themselves can be added to raw dishes.

Some 20 families harvest the seeds from farms around the community where trees have been found. They sell them to the group for 20 to 50 cents of a dollar per half kilo, depending on whether the seed is brought in with or without the shell.

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family, Ana Morales explained, gathers some 150 kilos per season, between January and June. This represents an additional source of income at a time when work is scarce in the countryside and climate change is jeopardising staple food crops like corn and beans.

“The arrangement is that I buy the nuts from them, but they have to include them in their diet,” she said.

Maná Ojushte sells 70 percent of what it produces and the remaining 30 percent is distributed free to the community, for meals in the local school, to the elderly and to pregnant women.

The ultimate aim is to teach families about the benefits of the Maya nut, and help them understand that there is a highly nutritional, easily accessible food source in their community.

“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Morales.

In 2014, 14 percent of children five and under suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to that year’s National Health Survey, which provides the latest available statistics. That is higher than the Latin American average, which stood at 11.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

“My family and I love Maya nuts,” Iris Gutiérrez, a 49-year-old local resident, told IPS. “I learned to make little cakes and soup, or I just serve the nuts boiled, with salt and lemon, like a salad.”

Gutiérrez buys buns and sells them in the village. But her aim, she said, is to learn to make bread with ojushte flour and sell it.

“One day that dream will come true,” she said.

She added that she goes to farms around the village to harvest the nuts and adds them to her family’s diet, collecting firewood along the way to cook them.

“If we gather two pounds (nearly one kilo), we add them to corn and the tortillas are more nutritious and our food stretches farther,” said Gutiérrez, a mother of two and the head of her household of six people, which also includes other relatives.

Similar initiatives

Meanwhile, in the municipalities of Candelaria de la Frontera and Texistepeque, in the eastern department of Santa Ana, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is backing a similar effort, but involving a spice called chaya, rather than ojushte.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), a bush native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, was also used by the ancient Mayans in the pre-Columbian era.

As in the case of ojushte, the promotion of chaya emerged as part of environmental conservation plans aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

“Local communities had to look for a nutritional alternative that would improve the diet but would also be resistant to climate change, and we found that chaya is one of the most beneficial plants,” Rosemarie Rivas, a specialist in nutrition at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

Besides chaya bushes, FAO has distributed 26,000 fruit trees, as well as 8,000 moringa trees (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstrick or horseradish tree, whose leaves are also highly nutritious.

Another part of the project will be the creation of 250 family gardens to boost local food production capacity.

Efforts to encourage consumption of ojushte, chaya, moringa and other locally grown plants can make a difference when it comes to lowering malnutrition rates in rural areas, Rivas said.

She stressed, however, that boosting nutrition is not only about eating healthy foods, but involves other variables as well, such as the population’s overall health, which is influenced, for example, by factors such as the availability of sanitation and clean water.

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War on Climate Terror (I): Deserts Bury Two Thirds of African Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/war-on-climate-terror-i-deserts-bury-two-thirds-of-african-lands/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 15:21:35 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146481 "No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

"No one can deny the terrible similarities between those running from the threat of guns and those fleeing creeping desertification, water shortages, floods and hurricanes," Konrad Osterwalder, the United Nations University. Photo: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the African continent is already desert or dry-lands. But while this vast extension of the second largest continent on Earth after Asia is “vital” for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees.

This shocking diagnosis illustrating the current situation of this continent of over 30 million km², home to 1,2 billion human beings living in 54 countries, comes from the top world body dealing with desertification.

In fact, in its report “Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought in Africa”, the Bonn-based UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) explains that the continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

“Poverty and difficult socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” it says.

On this, another UN agency has once more warned, “With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018.”

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 July alerted against what it called “race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support.” As little as just 109 million dollars are urgently required for the provision of seeds and other agricultural inputs and services.

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

FAO reports that its prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilisers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to smallholder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

“Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region.”

Desperate Situation

Africa’s near, medium-term future looks any thing but bright–by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Also by 2020, in some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.“The continent is affected by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel” -- UNCCD

The situation is so dire that the African Union (AU) along with the UNCCD and other partners, have organised the Africa Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

The conference, which is expected to bring together around 700 participants, on August 15-19 will focus on ways to halt and continue to prevent the rapid advance of the desert in the continent. Specifically, participants will concentrate their attention on mitigating the impacts of droughts and the development of national drought policies.

This event comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Niño.

Namibia appears as one of the most appropriate venues for such an event for several reasons, one of them being the fact that it was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries.

While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem,” says the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 per cent of the Namibian population.

“Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.” In 2015 drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 per cent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370,316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia, UNDP reports.

Here, the three top UN agencies dealing with food—FAO, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), informed in their joint World Report on The State of Food Insecurity 2015, that 42.7 per cent of Namibian population was undernourished.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, humanitarian and development bodies estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 South African Development Community member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, reminded “Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth.”

This desperate situation pushed FAO to talk about a race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support. “Widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region.”

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO on 28 July said.

Worst Drought in 35 Years

Two consecutive seasons of droughts, including the worst in 35 years that occurred this year, have particularly hit vulnerable families in rural areas, as prices of maize and other staple foods have risen, it added.

“The result is that almost 40 million people in the region are expected to face food insecurity by the peak of the coming lean season in early 2017. All countries in Southern Africa are affected.”

On this, David Phiri, FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, warned, “The high levels of unemployment and sluggish economies, means that the main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 per cent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

FAO project in Mauritania is a text book case on halting desertification in Africa. Photo: FAO

Moreover, widespread crop failure has exacerbated chronic malnutrition in the region. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe alone due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

FAO urges investments that equip communities with the ability to produce drought-tolerant seed and fodder, along with climate-smart agriculture technologies like conservation agriculture. The aim is to enable rural families to build resilience and prepare for future shocks, especially that more challenges are still to come.

“El Niño’s counter-phenomenon, La Niña, is likely to occur later this year and while it could bring good rains that are positive for agriculture, measures must be taken to mitigate the risk of floods which could destroy standing crops and threaten livestock, including making them more vulnerable to disease.”

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African Farmers Can Feed the World, If Only…http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/african-farmers-can-feed-the-world-if-only/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:29:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146449 Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

Can African farmers feed the world?. Apparently the answer is “yes.” Bold as it may sound, this statement is based on specific facts: Africa is home to 60-65 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10 per cent of renewable freshwater resources, and it has registered a 160 per cent increase in agricultural output over the past 30 years.

This data was provided in July this year by the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development), which is the technical body of the African Union (AU), and it reminds that the global population continues to soar, to approach around 10 billion by 2050.

“We’ll need to boost agricultural production by at least 70 per cent,” the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) consequently alerted.

NEPAD goes further and states that, given Africa’s share of the global population is forecast to rise from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, there’s a mounting appreciation that farmers on the second-largest continent –after Asia– will have to play a key role if this boom is to be managed successfully.

“We can and would be happy to feed the world,” said Raajeev Bopiah, general manager of the East Usambara Tea company, which produces over 4 million kilograms of tea a year on its 5,000 acres of land in Tanzania, NEPAD tells. “We just need the knowledge and the funding.”

Roadblocks

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world's children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging - and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

Through a new global video and poster contest, FAO is asked the world’s children to help it highlight how climate change is making the task of feeding a growing world population all the more challenging – and what we can all do, together, to meet that challenge. Image: FAO

There are a number of hurdles to boosting the fortunes of Africa’s farmers, says the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency), which is the AU implementing body that facilitates and coordinates the development of the continent-wide programmes and projects, mobilises resources and engages world’s institutions, regional economic communities and member states.

“One of the biggest obstacles is the messy system of tariffs and inflexible border policies that govern relations between many of the continent’s 55 states. Only 13 countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry to all Africans, according to this year’s Africa Visa Openness Report.

Businesses in landlocked nations in particular complain that shifting their produce across frontiers to ports is such a fraught exercise that they often incur huge losses in the process, the technical bit of the African Union reminds.

“Transportation in Africa is so hard. It’s expensive and sometimes risky,” NEPAD quoted Ahmad Ibrahim of African Alligator, a mostly Ugandan firm that started off hauling carpets and elevators before moving into the sesame and peanut trade. Ibrahim says border waits “can be long, and goods perish.”

Regional economic bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have enjoyed some success in harmonising customs forms and improving at least a few cross-border transport links, but many say they don’t go far enough, says NEPAD in its report titled “African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” .

“Within their own states too, governments have exhibited a tendency to inadvertently stymie trade. Tanzania’s inconsistent tax regime, for example, has bounced farmers from one tax bracket to another. Those charged with balancing the books say it’s hard to plan far in advance for fear of finding oneself on the hook for unexpectedly high bills.”"African farmers say they can feed the world and we might soon need them” - NEPAD

“There’s no guarantee that it will remain constant for a long time, and that hurts. You can’t plan long-term when new taxes are imposed without taking into consideration what is affordable and what isn’t,” NEPAD quoted Raajeev.

Shoddy infrastructure also haunts large swathes of the continent. The transport network in northern Tanzania is so poor that Bopiah’s tea-producing company is severely limited in the weight of goods it can haul on the 70km journey to the port at Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

“You can’t transport more than four tons in a truck on mud roads-as opposed to the 20 tons I could do on proper roads. It’s costing me five times more!” Bopiah said.

In the most egregious recent example of the pitfalls of overwhelmed harbour facilities, at least 10 ships carrying 450,000 tons of emergency wheat for drought-stricken parts of Ethiopia earlier this year were kept waiting out at sea for weeks because the port at Djibouti couldn’t cope with the volume of incoming cargo, NEPAD reports.

And FAO adds that a shortage of silos and an erratic power supply also forces many food producers to turn to expensive diesel-fuelled generators in order to fire their water pumps and greenhouses. Some 30 per cent of all food produced across the world is lost to spoilage or waste.

A lack of adequate storage means “the continent loses food worth 4 billion dollars annually as post-harvest loss,” says Richard Munang, a senior official at the UN’s Environment Program. “Inefficiencies along Africa’s agro-value chains are the basis of food problems.”

By upgrading and expanding facilities, while also boosting low electricity output, Africa could fast become food self-sufficient, just to start with.

Beyond infrastructure issues, corruption continues to undermine the hard work of small landholders and large agribusinesses alike. For companies that must haul their wares long distances or navigate bribe-happy transport hubs, it all cuts deep into their bottom line.

Farmers also face limited funding opportunities. Most countries on the continent lack agricultural banks and commercial banks tend to see agriculture as an overly risky bet. “They think the gestation period is just too long,” Bopiah said.

“For example, if you want to plant a certain crop, it could take five years for it to start paying itself back.”

Deprived of access to proper loans, many farmers are unable to buy some of the tools or chemicals that might enable them to boost their yields. In a continent where wheat yields can be as low as 1-1.5 tons per hectare (in comparison to 3 or 4 tons elsewhere), these limitations are intensely problematic.

As far as leading African agronomists are concerned, Africa is playing a desperate game of catch-up, according to the technical body of the African Union.

“We don’t have the time [that] developing countries had in the 60s. Today in Africa, not only do you have to produce better, but in a globalised world, you have to sell better too,” said Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at the Washington D.C-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), NEPAD reported.

“With a quarter of people in Sub-Saharan Africa currently going hungry, the stakes are desperately high, and states will have to deploy the full arsenal of modern tools if they’re to feed not only themselves but booming populations elsewhere.”

Now there is an additional huge hurdle challenging the capacity and willingness of African farmers to feed the world: a monster called climate change.

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The Historic Reversal of Populationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-historic-reversal-of-populations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-historic-reversal-of-populations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-historic-reversal-of-populations/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 11:05:26 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146447 Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.]]> Japan's aging population. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS

Japan's aging population. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Aug 8 2016 (IPS)

It first happened in Italy in 1995. Five years later it happened in six additional countries, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Japan, Portugal and Spain. Today the total number of countries where it has occurred stands at 30, including most members of the European Union. In fifteen years that number is expected to nearly double and include Australia, Canada, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States (Table 1).

Source:  United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

What happened to those countries – and will continue to occur to virtually every country’s population worldwide – is the Historic Reversal or the demographic turning point when children in a population become fewer than its elderly. This noteworthy milestone reflects the significant and far-reaching aging transformation of human populations taking place largely during the 21st century.

Throughout human history children were substantially more numerous than the elderly. Even a half century ago, the world’s population of 3.3 billion had on average more than seven children under 15 years of age for each elderly person aged 65 and over. Africa’s population in 1965 topped other major regions with more than 14 children per elderly person, followed by Asia and Latin America with more than 11 children per elderly person and Europe and Northern America at around 3 children per elderly person (Table 2).

Source:  United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Today the global ratio for the world’s 7.4 billion people has been halved to about three children per elderly person. While Africa’s population continues to have the highest ratio with nearly 12 children per elderly person, the ratios for Asia and Latin America are close to the current world average. In contrast, the population of Europe, which just recently experienced the Historical Reversal, has slightly less than one child per elderly person.

By 2075 the world’s projected population of 10.7 billion is expected to pass through the Historical Reversal with elderly persons becoming increasingly more numerous than children (Figure 1). The only major region that will not experience the Historical Reversal during the 21st century is Africa, which is projected to have 1.5 children per elderly person in 2100 with some countries, such as Niger, Nigeria and Somalia, having more than twice as many children as elderly. At that time, all the other major regions of the world are expected to have about twice as many elderly persons as children.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

The two key factors bringing about the Historic Reversal of population age structures are declining fertility rates and rising life expectancies. In every corner of the world, women are bearing fewer children than in the past. Whereas the average global fertility rate in 1965 was five births per woman, today it has fallen to half that level, with 75 countries or close to half the world’s population experiencing rates below the replacement level of about two births per woman.

In addition to rising life expectancies at birth, people are living longer than ever before as mortality rates among the elderly are declining. Over the past five decades the world’s life expectancy at age 65 has increased by nearly five years, with some countries, such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, making gains of seven or more years. As a consequence, since 1950 the proportion aged 80 and older among the world’s elderly increased from one in ten to one in five. In addition, since the start of the 21st century, the number of centenarians, those aged 100 years or older, has tripled compared to a 20 percent increase in world population.

Moreover, while world population is projected to increase by 40 percent by 2065, the number of elderly aged 65 years or older is expected to more than triple. By that year, some countries, such as China, Germany, Greece, Japan, Italy, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, are expected to have elderly persons account for one-third or more of their population (Figure 2).

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Among the world’s children aged 0 to 14 years, boys are a slight majority at 52 percent. However, due to the higher mortality rates of males, women make up majority among the elderly. Women represent 55 percent of persons aged 65 and older and more than 60 percent of the elderly above 80 years old.

While population age structures worldwide are becoming older, developing countries are going through the aging process at a substantially faster pace than took place in developed countries. For example, France took more than a century and the United States close to three-quarters of a century for their elderly populations aged 65 and over to increase from 7 to 14 percent. In contrast, developing countries, such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Iran and Thailand, are making that aging transformation in a quarter century or less.

The Historic Reversal and population aging certainly constitute a noteworthy demographic achievement. However, this achievement also comes with significant economic, social and political consequences needing societal attention, policy changes and program adjustments. Although gradual, the effects of population aging on a nation are pervasive and considerable, impacting all major spheres of human activity, including consumption, employment, voting, defense, foreign policy, recreation, health care, entertainment, family, immigration and taxation.

In particular, population aging presents a major challenge to government old age pension systems with more elderly beneficiaries and relatively fewer workers contributing to support them. To sustain pension programs for the elderly, countries have a number of options at their disposal.

Governments may choose to increase taxes, redirect government revenue, reduce benefits or privatize old age pension schemes. Understandably, those options are not met with enthusiasm by the general public, especially the elderly.

Other options include raising below replacement fertility levels and increasing the immigration of workers. However, even if fertility rates were to rise, which seem unlikely in the near term, it would take a couple of decades before the additional children could join the work force.

Adding immigrant workers, in contrast, would immediately expand the labor force. But eventually those workers also age, join the elderly population and rely on government pension programs. Over time this would in turn require even more immigrant workers to support the growing numbers of elderly persons.

Perhaps the least objectionable option to sustain pension programs is to raise the official retirement age. Increases in retirement ages are typically gradual and take effect in the distant future. Nevertheless, proposed increases in the statutory age of retirement, especially when linked to rising life expectancies, are frequently met with protests and demonstrations.

Insofar as none of the options to sustain old age pension programs are popular among voters and most elected officials, the needed policy changes are often postponed coupled with nebulous pledges to “save” old age pension systems. While this may be politically expedient and temporarily calm public anxiety, postponements make needed changes and adjustments even more pressing, difficult and costly in the future.

As a result of low birth rates, improved chances of survival and longer life, the Historic Reversal appears certain to happen in most countries during the 21st century. What remains uncertain, and appears somewhat worrisome at this point in time, is whether governments and the general public will respond effectively, responsibly and in a timely manner to the Historic Reversal and the many challenges being brought about by population ageing.

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Pan African Parliament Endorses Ban on FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/#comments Sat, 06 Aug 2016 18:14:05 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146419 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Desmond Latham
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 6 2016 (IPS)

After years of wrangling and debates among African leaders, the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is gaining real momentum, with a new action plan signed this week by Pan African Parliament (PAP) representatives and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to end FGM as well as underage marriage.

The UNFPA has already trained over 100,000 health workers to deal specifically with aiding victims of FGM, while tens of thousands of traditional leaders have also signed pledges against the practice.

The agreement followed a PAP Women’s Caucus meeting with UNFPA representatives in Johannesburg on July 29-30.

Kicking off the meeting, PAP President Roger Dang said, “PAP is determined to help and be part of stakeholders to come up with solutions to this practice. This is in line with the mandate of PAP to defend and promote gender balance and people living with disability.”

The PAP is the legislative organ of the African Union, and has up to 250 members representing the 50 AU Member States.

In some African countries, girls as young as eleven and twelve are forced to marry much older men. This has led to an increase in serious health problems, including cervical cancer and a host of social problems.

UNFPA East and Southern Africa Deputy Regional Director Justine Coulson said if the current trend continues, the number of girls under 15 who had babies would rise by a million – from two to three million.

“If we do nothing, in the next decade over 14 million girls under 18 years will be married every year,” she said.

There are believed to be at least seven million child brides in Southern Africa alone. While underage marriage and childbirth is a major health risk, the Pan African Parliament UNFPA workshop also heard how FGM had led to an increased likelihood girls and women would be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The cause of this can be traced back to contaminated cutting instruments, hemorrhages requiring blood transfusions, and injurious sexual intercourse causing vaginal tearing and lesions.

Globally, an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. In Africa, FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries, with prevalence rates ranging from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in Zaire.

The buy-in of African political leadership is crucial if this latest move is to succeed, with up to 140 million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa who’ve been forced to submit to the practice of cutting their genitals. The aim is to influence people on the ground as well as effect legislation banning the practice.

The procedure intentionally alters or injures a girl or woman’s organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits in the process and it can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and a host of childbirth complications.

There are four types of genital mutilation. Type 1 is a clitoridectomy which is where the clitoris is cut out. Type 2 is known as excision which is the totally removal of the clitoris and inner folds of the vulva. Type 3 is infibulation, which is the tightening of a a vaginal opening while, Type 4 is all other harmful procedures which includes piercing, cauterising, scraping and stitching the vagina.

The PAP also agreed to work with the UNFPA in seeking to overturn the practice of marrying off children under the age of sixteen.

In June, the UNFPA worked with Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum representatives at a meeting in Swaziland which voted through a Model Law on eradicating child marriage.

Coulson said moves such as these seen in SADC are beginning to show tangible results.

“Girls and women of Africa need your support to end female genital mutilation. We need to act now. All it requires is our engagement, passion and dedication to uphold the human rights of women and girls,” she told attendees at the workshop.

Now the PAP has setup a working group which will oversee the moves towards a similar law. The areas of priority include laws and legislation, engaging the community, mobilising resources, advocacy and implementing the plan at regional and national levels.

Dang also called on men to step up and join the fight against FGM, saying, “We have double responsibility to defend girls against this human rights violation.”

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