Inter Press Service » Population http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Invest in Young People to Harness Africa’s Demographic Dividendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 22:09:25 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136771

Julitta Onabanjo is Regional Director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa. Benoit Kalasa is Regional Director, UNFPA West and Central Africa. Mohamed Abdel-Ahad is Regional Director, UNFPA North Africa and Arab States.

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Different issues will be competing for the attention of different African leaders attending the 69th United Nations General Assembly Special Session on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 in New York on Sep 22.

But the central question for Africa’s development today is this: How do we harness the dividend from the continent’s current youthful population?

Solving this issue has never been more fundamental to Africa’s development than it is today.

For decades many, African countries have come up with a variety of ‘development’ plans. But often missing in these documents is how best to harness the potential of the youthful population for the transformation of the continent.

Therefore, strategic investment to harness the potential of the youth population can no longer wait.“African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights”

The groundswell for change

Africa is undergoing important demographic changes, which provide immense economic opportunities. Currently, there are 251 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in Africa compared with 1.2 billion worldwide, which means that around one in five adolescents in the world comes from Africa.

Africa’s working age population is growing and increasing the continent’s productive potential. If mortality continues to decline and fertility declines rapidly, the current high child dependency burden will reduce drastically. The result of such change is an opportunity for the active and employed youth to invest more.  With declining death rates, the working age population in Africa will increase from about 54 percent of the population in 2010 to a peak of about 64 percent in 2090.

This increase in the working age population will also create a window of opportunity  that, if properly harnessed, should translate into higher economic growth for Africa, yielding what is now termed a ‘demographic dividend’ – or accelerated economic growth spurred by a change in the age structure of the population.

Reaping the demographic dividend requires investments in job creation, health including sexual and reproductive health and family planning, education and skill and development, which would lead to increasing per capita income.

Due to low dependency ratio, individuals and families will be able to make savings, which translate into investment and boost economic growth. This is how East Asian countries (Asian Tigers) were able to capitalise on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

The impact of such a demographic transition on economic growth is no longer questionable – it is simply a fact.

But this transformation requires that appropriate policies, strategies, programs and projects are in place to ensure that a demographic dividend can be reaped from the youth bulge.

Seizing the moment

Without concerted action, many African countries could instead face a backlash from the growing numbers of disgruntled and unemployed youth that will emerge.

In the worst-case scenario, such a demographic transition could translate into an army of unemployed youth and significantly increase social risks and tensions.

To seize the opportunity, African states will need to focus their investments in a number of critical areas. A priority will be the education and training of their youth.

African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights.

If these efforts are to succeed, this will demand addressing gender disparities between today’s boys and girls especially, but more specifically, addressing the vulnerabilities of the adolescent girl.

Beyond rhetoric

As we move toward the post-2015 development agenda, unleashing the potential and power of Africa’s youth should be a critical component of the continent’s developmental strategies, as reflected in the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development – the regional outcome of ICPD beyond 2014 – and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

This can no longer be reduced to election or political polemics. It requires urgent action.

Young people are central to the realisation of the demographic dividend. It is therefore important to protect and fulfil the rights of adolescents and youth to accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education, and health services for sexual and reproductive well-being and lifelong health, to ensure a productive and competitive labour force.

Africa cannot afford to squander the potential gains of the 21st Century offered by such an important demographic asset:  its youthful population.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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U.N. Urged to Reaffirm Reproductive Rights in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136747 Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

The U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda has been described as the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the world body.

But where does population, family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) fit into the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an integral part of that development agenda?"We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life." -- Purnima Mane, head of Pathfinder International

Of the 17, Goal 3 is aimed at “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” while Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the “empowerment of all women and girls.”

But when the General Assembly adopts the final list of SDGs in September 2015, how many of the proposed goals will survive and how many will fall by the wayside?

Meanwhile, SRHR will also be a key item on the agenda of a special session of the General Assembly next week commemorating the 20-year-old Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) said, “Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girs and young people, including their reproductive rights.

“But the battle is not over,” he said.

“Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda, and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development,” he declared.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS, “We are delighted the final set of [proposed] SDGs contains four critical targets on SRHR: three under the health goal and one under the gender goal.”

The inclusion of a commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes, is necessary and long overdue, she said.

“But we have not reached the finish line yet,” cautioned Mane, who oversees an annual budget of over 100 million dollars for sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing countries.

The SDGs still need to be adopted by the General Assembly, “and we must all continue to raise our voices to ensure these SRHR targets are intact when the final version is approved,” she added.

Mane said civil society is disappointed these targets are not as ambitious or rights-based as they should be.

“And translating the written commitment into actionable steps remains a major challenge and is frequently met with resistance. We must retain our focus on these issues,” she said.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Malaysia-based Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) working across 17 countries in the region, told IPS it is ideal to have SRHR captured both under the gender goal as well as the health goal.

The advantages of being part of the gender goal is that the rights aspects can be more strategically addressed – because this is the area where universal commitment has been lagging – the issues of early marriage, gender-based violence, harmful practices – all of which have an impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women, she pointed out.

“The advantages of being part of the health goal is that interventions to reduce maternal mortality, increase access to contraception, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are part and parcel of sound national health policies,” Thanenthiran said.

It would be useful for governments to learn from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process and ensure that the new goals are not implemented in silos, she added. “Public health concerns should be addressed with a clear gender and rights framework.”

Maria Jose Alcala, director of the secretariat of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD, told IPS what so many governments and stakeholders around the world called for throughout the negotiations was simply to affirm all human rights for all individuals – and that includes SRHR.

The international community has an historic opportunity– and obligation — to move the global agenda forward, and go beyond just reaffirming agreements of 20 years ago as if the world hasn’t changed,and as if knowledge and society hasn’t evolved, she noted.

“We know, based on ample research and evidence, based on the experiences of countries around the world, as well as just plain common sense, that we will never achieve poverty eradication, equality, social justice, and sustainable development if these fundamental human rights and freedoms are sidelined or traded-off in U.N. negotiations,” Jose Alcala said.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a must and prerequisite for the post-2015 agenda “if we are to really leave nobody behind this time around,” she declared.

Mane told IPS, “As the head of Pathfinder, I will actively, passionately, and strongly advocate for SRHR and family planning to be recognised and aggressively pursued in the post-2015 development agenda.”

She said access to SRHR is a fundamental human right. “We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life. ”

Asked about the successes and failures of ICPD, Thanenthiran told IPS there is a need to recognise the progress so far: maternal mortality ratios and infant mortality rates have decreased, access to contraception has improved and life expectancy increased.

However, much remains to be accomplished, she added. “It is apparent from all recent reports and data that SRHR issues worldwide are issues of socio-economic inequality.”

In every country in the world, she noted, women who are poorer, less educated, or belong to marginalised groups (indigenous, disabled, ethnic minorities) suffer from undesirable sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Compared to their better educated and wealthier sister citizens, these women and girls are more likely to have less access to contraception, have pregnancies at younger ages, have more frequent pregnancies, have more unintended pregnancies, be less able to protect themselves from HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases, suffer from poor maternal health, die in childbirth and suffer from fistula and uterine prolapse.

Hence the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda is also the equality agenda of this century, she added.

“Governments must commit to reducing these inequalities and carry these learnings from ICPD at 20 into the post-2015 development agenda,” Thanenthiran said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Step Up Efforts Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:08:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136744

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed themselves to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2014 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates that 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – remain chronically hungry: 789 million are in developing countries where this share has declined from 23.4 to 13.5 percent.

By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015.

Some 25 countries have made more impressive progress, achieving the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by one-fifth from the billion estimated for 1990-92.

Major effort needed

The proportion of undernourished people – those regularly not able to consume enough food for an active and healthy life – has decreased from 23.4 percent in 1990–1992 to 13.5 percent in 2012–2014. This is significant because a large and growing number of countries show that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

However, the MDG target of halving the chronically undernourished people’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 cannot be met at the current rate of progress. Meeting the target is still possible, however, with a sufficient, immediate additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress so far.

Progress uneven

“By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015”
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished.

Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions. There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached, or nearly reached.

West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared with 1990–1992, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight and stunting persist in children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Such nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Food security and nutrition

Hunger is conventionally measured in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment, the FAO estimate of chronic inadequacy of dietary energy. While such a measure is useful for estimating hunger, it needs to be complemented by more measures to capture other dimensions of food security.

SOFI’s suite of indicators measures different dimensions of food security. Information thus generated can guide priority policy actions. For example, in countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting.

With the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals likely to seek to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO has recently developed and tested a new Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in over 150 countries to measure the severity of reported food insecurity.

Lessons

Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water supply and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, and more effective, resources to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without universalising social protection to all in need, but also to provide the means for future livelihoods and resilience.

The forthcoming Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome on November 19-21 is expected to articulate coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition as well as for greater international cooperation and support for enhanced and more integrated national nutrition efforts.

 

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Geographical Divide in Maternal Health for Syrian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:17:22 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136741 A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
DOHUK, Iraq, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the largest refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, young Syrian mothers and pregnant women are considered relatively lucky.

The number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed 3 million in late August, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (over 1.1 million), Turkey (over 800,000), and Jordan (over 600,000). In all of the above, serious concerns have been expressed about the availability of healthcare services for expectant mothers.

In Lebanon, for example – which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children – the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last year had to reduce its coverage of delivery costs for mothers to 75 percent instead of 100 percent, due to funding shortfalls.Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare

The Domiz camp in the northern Dohuk province houses over 100,000 mostly Syrian Kurds, but is in a geographical area with a 189 percent coverage rate of humanitarian aid funding requests in 2014. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (SHARP) has received only 33 percent of the same.

Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare.

This does not necessarily equate with quality healthcare, however. Halat Yousef, a young mother that IPS spoke to in Domiz, said that she had been told after a previous birth in Syria that she would need a caesarean section for any subsequent births.

On her arrival at the Dohuk public hospital, she was instead refused a bed, told to come back in a week and that she would have to give birth normally. They also told her she had hepatitis.

Fortunately, she said, her husband realised the seriousness of the situation and took her to the capital, where they immediately performed a C-section and found that she was instead negative for hepatitis. IPS met her as she was leaving healthcare facilities set up in the camp, holding her healthy 10-day-old infant.

Until recently, many mothers would also simply give birth in their tents. On August 4, Médicins San Frontiéres (MSF) opened a maternity unit in the camp that offers ante-natal check-ups, birthing services headed by MSF-trained midwives and post-natal vaccinations provided by staff who are also refugees.

Information on breastfeeding and family planning advice is also provided, according to MSF’s medical team leader in the camp, Dr Adrian Guadarrama.

MSF estimates that 2,100 infants are born in the camp every year, and others to refugees living outside of it.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long been providing safe delivery kits to healthcare providers. It also works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provides contraceptives to those requesting them, thereby ensuring that pregnancies are planned, wanted and safer.

The clean delivery kits contain a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet for the woman to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a sterilised umbilical cord tie, a cloth (to keep the mother and baby warm) and latex gloves.

UNFPA humanitarian coordinator Wael Hatahet told IPS that so far the programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan for Syrian refugees had received enough funding to cover the necessary services, and this was why ‘’the situation is no longer an emergency one for Syrians here’’.

Hatahet said that he gives a good deal of credit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which – despite having seen a major cut in public funds from the central government as part of a prolonged tug-of-war between the two – continues to support Syrian refugees coming primarily from the fellow Kurdish regions across the border.

Many residents expressed dissatisfaction to IPS about what they considered ‘’privileged treatment’’ given to Syrian refugees while the massive influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have arrived in the region over the past few months – after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group took over vast swathes of Iraqi territory in June – are seen to be suffering a great deal more.

Even Hatahet, who is of Syrian origins himself, noted that he had seen ‘’Iraqi IDPs wearing the same set of clothes for the past 15 days’’.

‘’We obviously try to support with garments and dignity kits,’’ he said, ‘’but it’s really, really sad.’’

However, he also noted that ‘’almost all the IDP operations are supported by the Saudi Fund [for Development]’’ totalling some 500 million dollars and announced in summer, ‘’which was strictly for IDPs and not refugees.’’

Hatahet expressed concerns that a broader shift in focus to Iraqi IDPs might result in a loss of the gains made in this geographical area of the Syrian refugee crisis, urging the international community to remember that ‘’we have 100,000 refugees scattered within the host community’’ and not just in the camps.

The Turkish office of UNFPA told IPS that, in its area of operations, ‘’it is estimated that about 1.3 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey, of which only one-fifth of them are staying in camps due to limited space. 75 percent of the refugees are women and children under 18 years old.’’

It pointed out that ‘’women and girls of reproductive age under conditions of war and displacement are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, early and forced marriage, high-risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, risky deliveries, lack of family planning services and commodities and sexually transmitted diseases.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Rare Zambian Tree Faces Exploitation Because of Legal Loopholehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:32:16 +0000 Piliro Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136735 The South Luangwa National Park in North Eastern Zambia. This is one of the areas where the Mukula tree grows. Credit: Alex Berger/CC by 2.0

By Piliro Phiri
RUFUNSA, Zambia, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

Steven Nyambose used to sell charcoal for a living until he discovered that the trees could be more lucrative in another way – through cutting them down and selling the logs to international buyers.

“We used to see this [Mukula] tree and think of it being just like any other, not knowing that it is a gold mine on its own. And now that the buyers are plenty, we have changed the business focus from the usual charcoal burning and hunting to the lucrative business of cutting and selling the Mukula logs,” Nyambose, a resident of Rufunsa, which lies about 200 kilometres east of Zambia’s capital Lusaka, told IPS.

But there is a downside to Nyambose’s business – it is illegal.“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber." -- government forestry officer

Zambia has seen a rise in the demand for its timber, mainly for export. Unfortunately, much of the exploitation of the timber, especially the rare Mukula species, otherwise known by its biological classification, Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is illegal in this southern African nation.

But the trade is flourishing because of a lack of clarity in legislation that protects Zambia’s forests.

Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973 states that one cannot harvest major forest products like trees without a licence. But the act allows local communities to harvest forest produce for domestic use and not export.

The  loophole is apparently being exploited as local communities are contracted to cut the trees by timber dealers who are supplying international consumers, among them the Chinese and Americans.

The Mukula tree is in high demand among the international business communities who are using it in the production of gunstocks and other artefacts.

Locals are paid between five and 10 dollars per log.

“The charcoal business is not only a health risk but it is also not lucrative because of the high number of people in the same business. Trading in Mukula is more profitable because its market is not local like it is with charcoal, we target the Chinese nationals because they seem to be more interested in the logs,”  Nyambose explained.

The popularity of the tree lies in the fact that it has three usable layers, while other trees only have a usable heart or inner layer.

The Mukula tree’s heart wood is used for making rifle butts; the second layer is used in the timber industry for furniture, while the outer part is used for medicinal purposes.

The sudden soaring demand  from the international market for the tree has probably been triggered after the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique intensified security around the harvesting of the tree.

“We have our bosses who contract us to cut the Mukula trees. These bosses are sometimes our fellow Zambians who are more establish in the timber business or even the foreign businessmen,” Nyambose said.

The tree, which takes more than 90 years to mature, is widely spread in all provinces of Zambia apart from the Copperbelt, North Western and Western provinces.

For a long time, no attention was paid to monitoring how the timber industry operated and how the country’s precious resource was exported. However, illegal loggers and transporters are increasingly being caught.

Recently, cases of trucks laden with logs of the Mukula tree were impounded in different locations across Zambia.

Last month, in Chipata, in the Eastern province, police intercepted a truck laden with Mukula trees enroute to neighbouring Malawi. Over 1,000 Mukula logs, suspected to have been illegally cut in Vubwi District in Eastern province, were being transported to Malawi without clearance.

And in April, a Lands, Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection team impounded a truck laden with Mukula logs in Rufunsa.

According to a government forestry officer based in Lusaka, who spoke to IPS on the condition of anonymity, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

He did point out that there was a significant loophole in Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973.

“The Forest Act number 39 of 1973, Chapter 199, is not effective as it allows harvesting any tree apart from species that bear fruits and those involved in the conservation of water near or around a water table.

“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber,” the expert said.

But Lands and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Mwansa Kapeya said the government intensified patrols and operations in areas where the illegal cutting down of the Mukula tree was rife.

He warned foreign nationals involved in the cutting and exporting of the Mukula tree that they risked going to jail and could be deported from Zambia.

“We are not just watching, we are reviewing policies on forestry and would also put in place a national strategy to address the levels of deforestation and illegal timber business,” Kapeya told reporters recently.

The government forestry officer pointed out that the root of combating the tree’s exploitation lies not in policies but in their implementation.

“Look at the Forestry Department for example; it is present in all the provinces and districts but the tools and equipment required to ensure sustainable forest protection and management including law enforcement are not available.

“We have suitable legislation but if practical application is not available then the policy or Act may not be effective.”

But according to Zambia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher Davison Gumbo, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation like the Forests Act of 1973 and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

“The major point is policy enforcement,” Gumbo agreed.

“When there is no enforcement by government, people do as they see fit. With a higher level of enforcement, government would realise more revenues from the Mukula tree,” he told IPS.

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, the 44-year-old daughter of another deceased Committee founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Latin America at a Climate Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:41:36 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136697 Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Will the Upcoming Climate Summit Be Another Talkathon?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:35:44 +0000 Meenakshi Raman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136679 Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Meenakshi Raman
PENANG, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations hosts a Climate Summit Sep. 23, the lingering question is whether the meeting of world leaders will wind up as another talk fest.

It is most likely that it could go that way. The problem is that developed countries are pressuring developing countries to indicate their pledges for emissions reductions post-2020 under the Paris deal which is currently under negotiation, without any indication of whether they will provide any finance or enable technology transfer – which are current commitments under the Convention.Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

What is worse is that many developed countries – especially the U.S. and its allies – are delaying making their contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was launched in 2011 and it was agreed in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that developed countries will mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The GCF has yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Worse, there is a grave reluctance to indicate the size and scale of the resources that will be put into the GCF for its initial capitalisation. Only Germany so far has indicated that it is willing to contribute one billion dollars to the Fund. Others have been deafeningly silent.

The G77 and China, had in Bonn, Germany in June, called for at least 15 billion dollars to be put into the GCF as its initial capital. The Climate Summit must focus on this to get developed countries to announce their finance commitments to the Fund.

If it does not, the UNFCCC meeting in Lima will be in jeopardy, as this is an existing obligation of developed countries that must be met latest by November.

This is the most important issue in confidence building to enable developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation needs. Otherwise, without real concrete and finance commitments, the New York summit will be meaningless.

Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

In Cancun, many developing countries already indicated what they were willing to do in terms of emissions reductions for the pre-2020 time frame and many of them had conditioned those actions on the promise of finance and technology transfer.

Despite this, the GCF remains empty and no technology transfer has really been delivered.

The other issue is whether developed countries will raise their targets for emissions reductions, as currently, their pledges are very low.
In 2012 in Doha, Qatar, developed countries that are in the Kyoto Protocol (such as the European Union, Norway, Australia, New Zealand. Switzerland and others but not including the U.S., Canada and Japan) agreed to re-visit the commitments they made for a second commitment period from 2013-2020.

The total emissions that they had agreed to was a reduction of only 17 percent by 2020 for developed countries, compared to 1990 levels. This was viewed by developing countries as very low, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had in their 4th Assessment Report referred to a range of 25-40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels for developed countries.

It was agreed in Doha that the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol (KP) would revisit their ambition by 2014. Hence, whether this will be realised in Lima remains to be seen. So whatever announcements are made in New York will not amount to much if the cuts do not amount to at least 40 percent reductions by 2020 on the part of developed countries.

Developed countries that are not in the Kyoto Protocol such as the United States, Canada and Japan were urged to do comparable efforts in emissions reductions as those in the KP.

It is not likely at all that these countries will raise their ambition level at all, given that both Japan and Canada announced that they will actually increase their emission levels from what they had announced previously in Cancun!

For the U.S., the emission reduction pledge that they put forth is very low, amounting to only a reduction of about three percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. For the world’s biggest historic emitter, this is doing too little, too late.

It is against this backdrop that the elements for a new agreement which is to take effect post-2020 is to be finalised in Lima, with a draft negotiating text to be ready early next year.

If the pre-2020 ambition is very low both in terms of the emission reductions of developed countries and the lack of resources in the GCF, the basis for the 2015 agreement will be seriously jeopardised.

Without any leadership shown by developed countries, developing countries will be reluctant to undertake more ambitious action. Hence, the race to the bottom in climate action is real.

If the Climate Summit does not address the failure of developed countries to meet their existing obligations which were agreed to under the UNFCCC, it will indeed turn into a mere talkshop that attempts to provide a smokescreen for inaction on their part.

Another lingering question: Can the private sector, which is expected to play a key role in the summit, be trusted on climate change?

It is the private sector in the first place that got us into this climate mess. Big corporations cannot be trusted to bring about the real changes that are needed as there will be much green-washing.

Companies are profit-seeking and they would only engage in activities that will bring them profits. There are huge lobbies in the climate arena who are pushing false approaches such as trading in carbon and other market mechanisms and instruments through which they seek to make more profits.

For example, there is a big push for ‘ Climate Smart Agriculture” with big corporations and the World Bank in the forefront.

There is no definition yet on what is ‘climate smart’ and there are grave concerns from civil society and farmers movements that such policies being pushed by big corporations who are in the frontline of controversial genetic engineering, industrial chemicals and carbon markets.

Many criticise the CSA approach which does not exclude any practices—which means that GMOs, pesticides, and fertilisers, so long as they contribute to soil carbon sequestration, would be permissible and even encouraged.

Such approaches not only contribute to environmental and social problems but they also also undermine one of the most important social benefits of agroecology: reducing farmers’ dependence on external inputs. Yet CSA is touted as a positive initiative at the New York Summit – a clear cut case of green-washing.

Real solutions in agriculture are those which are sustainable and based on agroecology in the hands of small farmers and communities- not in the hands of the big corporations who were responsible for much of the emissions in industrial agriculture.

The same can be said about the Sustainable Energy for All – with big corporations driving the agenda – where the interests of those who really are deprived of energy access will not be prioritised.

This is because the emphasis is on centralised modern energy systems that are expensive and not affordable to those who need them the most undermines the very objective it is set to serve in term of ensuring universal access to modern energy services.

If these initiatives are touted as ‘solutions’ to climate change, then we are in big trouble – for they are not the real kind of solutions needed.

A lot is being said about creating enabling environments in developing countries to attract private investments.

It is for developing countries to put in place their national climate plans and in that context, gauge which private sector can play a role, in what sector and how to do so, including the involvement of small and medium entrepreneurs, including farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples etc.

But developed countries are pushing the interests of their big corporations in the name of attracting new types of green foreign investments. Such approaches are new conditionalities.

Any role of the private sector is only supplemental and cannot be a substitute for the provision of real financial resources and technology transfer to developing countries to undertake their action. This clearly cannot be classified as climate finance.

Developed country governments in passing on the responsibility for addressing climate change to the private sector are abdicating the commitments that they have under the climate change Convention. This is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World’s Most Unequal Region Sets Example in Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136708 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/feed/ 1 Against All the Odds: Maternity and Mortality in Afghanistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:09:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136646 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Nasrin Mohamadi, a mother of four, has promised herself never to set foot in an Afghan public hospital again. After her first experience in a maternity ward, she has lost all faith in the state’s healthcare system.

“The doctors said that I had not fully dilated yet so they told me to wait in the corridor. I had to sit on the floor with some others as there wasn’t a single chair,” Mohamadi tells IPS, recalling her experience at Mazar-e Sharif hospital, 425 km northwest of Kabul.

“They finally took me into the room where three other women were waiting with their legs wide open while people came in and out. They kept me like that for an hour until I delivered without [an] anaesthetic, and not even a single towel to clean my baby or myself,” adds the 32-year-old.

“Immediately afterwards the doctors told me to leave as there were more women queuing in the corridor.”

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent." -- Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Even after she left the hospital, Mohamadi’s ordeal was far from over. The doctors told her not to wash herself for ten days after the delivery, and as a result her stitches got infected.

“I paid between 600 and 800 dollars to give birth to my other three children after that; it was money well invested,” she says.

This is a steep price to pay in a country where the average daily income is under three dollars, and 75 percent of the population live in rural areas without easy access to health facilities.

Many women have no other option than to rely on public services, and the result speaks volumes about Afghanistan’s commitment to maternal health: some 460 deaths per 100,000 live births give the country one of the four worst maternal mortality ratios (MMR) in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

While this represents a significant decline from a peak of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births in 2002, far too many women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations.

In 2013 alone, 4,200 Afghan women lost their lives while giving birth.

The lack of specialised medical attention during pregnancy or delivery for a great bulk of Afghan women is partly responsible. Few have access to health centres because these are only reachable in urban areas. The lack of both security and proper roads forces many women to deliver at home.

This does not bode well for the 6.5 million women of reproductive age around the country, particularly since Afghanistan only has 3,500 midwives, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)’s latest State of the World’s Midwifery report.

This means that the existing workforce of midwives meets only 23 percent of women’s needs. The situation is poised to worsen: UNFPA estimates that midwifery services in the country “will need to respond to 1.6 million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 73 percent of these in rural settings.”

Even women with access to top-level urban facilities, such as the Kabul-based Malalai Maternity Hospital, are not guaranteed safety and comfort.

For instance, Sultani*, a mother of four, tells IPS she is far from satisfied with her experience.

“I gave birth through caesarean section to my four children in this hospital but the doctors who attended to me were unskilled,” she remarks bluntly. “A majority of them had only completed three years of medical [school].

“On a scale of one to 10, I can only give Malalai a four,” she concludes.

Sultani’s opinion may be specific to her own experience, but it finds echo in various reports and studies of the country’s health system. A 2013 activity report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) labeled Afghanistan “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child” due to a lack of skilled female medical staff.

“Private clinics are unaffordable for most Afghans and many public hospitals are understaffed and overburdened,” reports the organisation, which runs four hospitals across the country.

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent,” continues the report.

This is a sobering analysis of a country that will need to configure its health system to cover “at least 117.8 million antenatal visits, 20.3 million births and 81.3 million post-partum/postnatal visits between 2012 and 2030”, according to UNFPA.

Given that contraceptive use is still scarce, reaching only 22 percent of reproductive-age women, large families continue to be the norm. Afghan women give birth to an average of six children, a practice fuelled by a cultural obsession with bearing at least one son, who will in turn care for his parents in their old age.

A lack of information about birth spacing means mothers seldom have time to fully recover between deliveries, causing a range of health issues for the mother and a lack of milk for the newborn child.

Findings from a 2013 survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health indicate that only 58 percent of children below six months were exclusively breastfed.

Still, this is an improvement from a decade ago and represents small but hopeful changes in the arena of women and children’s health. The same government survey found, for instance, that “stunting among children has decreased by nearly 20 percent from 60.5 percent in 2004 to 40.9 percent in 2013.”

Dr. Nilofar Sultani, who practices at the Malalai Maternity Hospital, tells IPS that medical assistance in Afghanistan has improved “significantly” over the last ten years.

“There are more health centres, and [they are] far better equipped. The number of skilled doctors has also grown,” explains Sultani, a gynaecologist.

But the most important change, she says, has been in women’s attitude towards medical care. “Before, very few women would come to the hospitals but today, the majority of women come forward on their own. They’re slowly losing their fear [of] doctors,” notes Sultani, adding that health centres are among the very few places where Afghan women can feel at ease without the presence of a man.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136650 Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Flood of Energy Projects Clash with Mexican Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:22:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136634 Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Since January, villagers and townspeople near the Los Pescados river in southeast Mexico have been blocking the construction of a dam, part of a multi-purpose project to supply potable water to Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz.

“Our rights to a pollution-free life, to decide where and how we live, to information, to free, prior and informed consultation, are being infringed. We don’t want our territory to just be invaded like this any more,” Gabriela Maciel, an activist with the Pueblos Unidos de la Cuenca Antigua por Ríos Libres (PUCARL – Peoples of La Antigua Basin United For Free Rivers), told IPS.

PUCARL is made up of residents from 43 communities in 12 municipalities within the La Antigua river basin. Together with other organisations, it succeeded in achieving a suspension of work on the dam that was being built near Jalcomulco by Odebrecht, a Brazilian company, and the State of Veracruz Water Commission.

The dam has a planned capacity of 130 million cubic metres, a reservoir surface area of 4.13 square kilometres and a cost of over 400 million dollars. It is one of more than a hundred dams planned by federal and state governments, which are causing conflict with local communities.

Infrastructure building on a vast scale is under way in Mexico as part of the country’s energy reform. The definitive legal framework for this was enacted Aug. 11, opening up electricity generation and sales, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

Nine new laws were created and another 12 were amended, implementing the historic constitutional reform that was promulgated Dec. 20.“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints." -- Manuel Llano

The new energy framework is expected to attract dizzying sums in investments from national and international sources to Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America, during the four-year period 2015-2018, according to official forecasts.

On Aug. 18 the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) announced 16 investment projects worth 4.9 billion dollars. Of this total, 27 percent is for public projects and 73 percent is earmarked for the private sector.

In the framework of the 2014-2018 National Infrastructure Programme (PNI), the CFE is planning 138 projects for a total of 46 billion dollars, including hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal energy generation plants, transmission lines and power distribution networks.

“Environmental and social legislation has been undermined in order to attract investment. Laws guaranteeing peoples’ rights and land rights have been weakened. This heightens the risk of a flare-up of social and environmental conflicts. It is a backward step,” Mariana González, a researcher on transparency and accountability for Centro de Análisis Fundar, an analysis and research centre, told IPS.

State oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) is programmed to carry out 124 projects as part of the PNI, totalling over 253 billion dollars. They include gas pipelines, improvements to refineries, energy efficiency measures at oil installations and oil exploration and extraction projects, among others.

The majority of the planned investments are slated for the southeastern state of Campeche, where 43 billion dollars will be spent on the exploitation and maintenance of four offshore oilfields.

In second place is the adjacent state of Tabasco, with projects amounting to nearly 15 billion dollars for shallow water oilfields and for the construction and remodelling of oil installations.

In Veracruz, PEMEX is planning investments of 11 billion dollars in shallow water offshore reserves and building and modernising oil installations, while in the northeastern state of

Tamaulipas it will spend 6.67 billion dollars on deepwater facilities and infrastructure modernisation.
Hydrocarbons licensing rounds

On Aug. 13, the Energy ministry (SENER) determined Round Zero (R-0) allocations, assigning PEMEX the rights to 120 oilfields, equivalent to 71 percent of national oil production which is to remain under state control.

PEMEX was also awarded 73 percent of gas production in R-0.

PEMEX’s current daily production is 2.39 million barrels of crude and 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas.

For Round One (R-1) concessions, SENER called for tenders from private operators for 109 oil and gas exploration blocks and 60 production blocks.

The government estimates the investment required for these projects at 8.52 billion dollars between 2015 and 2018, for exploration and extraction in deep and shallow waters, land-based oilfields and unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas.

The National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), the industry regulator, is preparing the terms for the concessions. Contracts will be assigned between May and September 2015.

Manuel Llano, technical coordinator for Conservación Humana, an NGO, cross-referenced maps of the detailed areas involved in Round Zero and Round One with protected natural areas, indigenous peoples’ and community territories.

He told IPS that the total land area assigned in R-0 is nearly 48,000 square kilometres, distributed in 142 municipalities and 11 states. Most of the assigned area is in Veracruz, followed by Tabasco. R-1 allocations cover 11,000 square kilometres in 68 municipalities and eight states.

The lands affected by R-0 overlap with 1,899 out of the country’s 32,000 farming communities. R-1 areas affect another 671 community territories, representing 4,416 square kilometres of collectively owned land.

Thirteen indigenous peoples living in an area of 2,810 square kilometres are affected by the R-0 allocations. Among the affected groups are the Chontal, Totonac and Popoluca peoples. The R-1 areas involve five indigenous peoples, including the Huastec, Nahuatl and Totonac, and more than 3,200 square kilometres of land.

“It’s hard to say exactly which places will be worst affected. There could be a great deal of damage in a very small area. It depends on the particular situation in each case. I can make reasonable estimates about what might occur in a specific concession area, but not in all of them,” Llano said.

Llano carried out a similar exercise in 2013, when he produced the “Atlas de concesiones mineras, conservación y pueblos indígenas” (Atlas of mining concessions, conservation areas and indigenous peoples). For this he mapped mining concession areas and compared them with protected areas and indigenous territories.

The new Hydrocarbons Law leaves land owners no option but to reach agreement with PEMEX or the private licensed operators over the occupation of their land, or accept a judicial ruling if agreement cannot be reached.

“The institutions have not carried out their work correctly. We know how the government apparatus works to get what it wants. We will oppose the approval of concessions and they will not succeed. We will continue our struggle. We are not alone; other peoples have the same problems,” said Maciel, the PUCARL activist.

Since March, several social organisations have taken collective legal action against government agencies for authorising the dam on La Antigua river and its environmental consequences. Los Pescados river is a tributary of La Antigua.

Between 2009 and 2013, SEMARNAT, the Environment and Natural Resources ministry, gave the green light to 12 hydroelectric and mini-hydropower plants on rivers in Veracruz. Construction has not yet begun on these projects.

Llano intends to compare maps of oil and gas reserves with the concession areas and contracts that are granted, in order to locate the potential resources claimed by the government and identify whether they match the bids at auction.

“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints,” he said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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U.N. Climate Summit: Staged Parade or Reality Show?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:46:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136627 Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The much-ballyhooed one-day Climate Summit next week is being hyped as one of the major political-environmental events at the United Nations this year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged over 120 of the world’s political and business leaders, who are expected to participate in the talk-fest, to announce significant and substantial initiatives, including funding commitments, “to help move the world towards a path that will limit global warming.”"What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries." -- Dipti Bhatnagar of FoEI

And, according to the United Nations, the summit will mark the first time in five years that world leaders will gather to discuss what is described as an ecological disaster: climate change.

The United Nations says the negative impact of global warming includes a rise in sea levels, extreme weather patterns, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, extinction of biodiversity species and threats to world food security.

But what really can one expect from a one-day event lasting probably over 12 hours of talk time, come Sep. 23?

“A one-day event was never going to solve everything about climate change, but it could have been a turning point by demonstrating renewed political will to act,” Timothy Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research for the GROW Campaign at Oxfam International, told IPS.

Some political leaders, he pointed out, will still use the opportunity to do that, “but too many look set to stay out of the limelight or steer clear of the kind of really transformational new commitments needed.”

Gore said the summit is designed as a platform for new commitments of climate action, but there is a real risk that even those that are made won’t add up to much.

“The focus on voluntary initiatives rather than negotiated outcomes means there are no guarantees that announcements made at the Summit will be robust enough,” he warned.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was launched in 2011, is expected to mobilise about 100 billion dollars per year from developed nations by 2020, according to the United Nations. But it is yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and Justica Ambiental (FoE Mozambique), told IPS, “On Sep. 23 we will see world leaders falling far short of delivering what we need to tackle dangerous climate change.”

The Climate Summit is completely inadequate and expected ‘pledges’ by governments and business at the Summit will be tremendously insufficient in the face of the climate catastrophe, she warned.

“The whole idea of leaders making voluntary, non-binding pledges itself is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people dying every year because of the impacts of climate change,” Bhatnagar said. “We need equitable, ambitious and binding emissions reduction targets from industrialised countries – not a parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good.

“But this fake parade is the only thing we will see at this one-day summit,” she added.

On Sep. 21, two days ahead of the summit, hundreds of thousands of people will march against climate change in New York and in cities across the globe.

Martin Kaiser, leader of the Global Climate Policy project at Greenpeace, told IPS, “We welcome Ban Ki-moon hosting a global climate summit this month and will be on the streets of New York on Sep. 21 as the largest climate march in history sends a loud and clear message that world leaders must act now.”

He said governments and businesses must bring concrete commitments to the summit: Corporations should announce firm deadlines by which they will run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy.

Additionally, “Governments need to commit to phase out of fossil fuels by 2050 and take concrete steps to get us there such as ending the financing of coal fired power plants.

“We also expect governments to announce new and additional money for the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate disasters and steer the world to clean and safe energy,” he added.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS: “We also need secure, predictable, and mandatory public finance from developed to developing countries through the U.N. system.”

Developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe. Their positions are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations, she added.

“What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries,” Bhatnagar added. “We also need a complete transformation of our energy and food systems.”

Oxfam International’s Gore told IPS there is also a need for more transparency to judge whether the announcements made are consistent with the latest climate science and protect the interests of those most vulnerable to climate impacts.

For example, he asked, “Are they consistent with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables and do they ensure improved energy access for people that need it? Or do they just add green gloss to business as usual?”

Asked about the role of the private sector, Gore said: “We need private sector leadership to tackle climate change, and there are good examples emerging of companies that are stepping up to the plate.”

In the food and beverage sector, for example, Oxfam has worked with companies like Kellogg and General Mills to make new commitments to cut emissions from their massively polluting agricultural supply chains.

“But overall this Summit shows that too many parts of the private sector are not yet up to the job, as the initiatives that will be launched fall short of the transformational change we need,” he pointed out.

“This serves to remind us of the critical importance of strong government leadership on climate change – bottom-up voluntary initiatives are no substitute for real government action,” Gore declared.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS the private sector cannot be trusted to address climate change. Dirty energy corporations have a huge voice in the private sector but their aim is higher profits, not a safe climate, she said.

“They make climate change worse day by day and on top of that they are still massively subsidised by the public unfortunately. These public subsidies must stop now,” she added.

Li Shuo, a senior policy officer with Greenpeace China, told IPS the Climate Summit will see the new Chinese administration make its debut on the international climate stage.

As China has made significant progress on ending its coal boom at home, the Chinese government should grasp this opportunity to end the current “you go first” mentality that has poisoned progress through the U.N. climate talks, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by announcing in New York that China will peak its emissions long before 2030?” Li asked.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Investing in Adolescent Girls for Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 07:50:24 +0000 Hinda Deby and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136611 Elina Makore, 19, of Renco Mine just after delivering a healthy baby at Rutandare Clinic a remote Zimbabwean outpost supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Courtesy: UNFPA/Stewart Muchapera

Elina Makore, 19, of Renco Mine just after delivering a healthy baby at Rutandare Clinic a remote Zimbabwean outpost supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Courtesy: UNFPA/Stewart Muchapera

By Hinda Deby Itno and Julitta Onabanjo
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Adolescence is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is also a time of change and challenge. 

Today’s adolescents, connected to each other like never before, can be a significant source of social progress and cultural change.

But they are also facing multiple challenges that seriously impact their future. And nowhere in the world do adolescents confront as formidable barriers to their full development as in Africa.

Today, adolescents and young people make up over one third of Africa’s population. They form a sizeable part of the population yet they lack critical investments, especially where it matters most – in sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education and skills building.

This calls for the serious and committed attention of all.

  Challenges facing adolescent girls

It is estimated that Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and maternal mortality. In Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, where child marriage is common, half of all teenage girls give birth before the age of 18.

This was the case for Zuera, a girl from Kano in northern Nigeria, who became a wife and a mother at just 14 years. She suffered the agony of two stillbirths and was treated for obstetric fistula, which is damage caused by childbirth that leaves a woman incontinent, that arose from her first pregnancy.

Zeura was robbed of her childhood. She also missed out on the transition phase of adolescence and finally, she missed life.

All over Africa, stories like Zeura’s are commonplace. Millions of girls become brides before the age of 15. Close to 30 percent of girls on the continent give birth by age 18, when they are still adolescents. These adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death due to pregnancy than older women.

Nearly two thirds of them lack the basic knowledge they need to access crucial sexuality education and health information to protect themselves from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Research has found that at least 60 percent of young people aged 10 to 24 years are unable to prevent HIV, due to a lack of sexuality education. We cannot allow this to continue.

A resilient and informed generation

Young people will carry the African continent into the future. They need a safe and successful passage to adulthood.

And this is not a privilege but a right. Yet this right can only be fulfilled if families, society, and government institutions make focused investments and provide opportunities to ensure that adolescents and youth progressively develop the knowledge, skills and resilience they need for a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.

Comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health services, education and skills building for adolescents and young people need to be placed at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific indicators and targets.

By building a strong foundation and investing in programmes that focus on delivering and achieving specific results for adolescents, Africa can achieve its transformation agenda.

Our desire is for every young person in Africa to be resilient and informed. We want every young African to be able to make their own decisions, to foster healthy relationships, access proper health care, actively participate in their education and ultimately, contribute to the development of their community and their future.

This means that programmes that are achieving results for adolescents in various parts of Africa must be scaled up. These include the husbands’ schools that have been developed in Niger, the girls’ empowerment initiative in Ethiopia, and the child marriage-free zones in Tanzania.

International institutions need to increase their commitments to adolescents, and address the nagging problems that confront adolescent girls and women across the African continent.

Adolescents have the potential to shape their world and indeed, the world in its entirety. It is in our interest to connect with them and enable them to change our world. Yes indeed!

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

 

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How Niger’s Traditional Leaders are Promoting Maternal Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 08:47:05 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136577 Chief Yahya Louche of Bande, a village in Niger, addresses his constituents about maternal health and the importance of involving men. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Chief Yahya Louche of Bande, a village in Niger, addresses his constituents about maternal health and the importance of involving men. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
BANDE, Niger, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

It is a long, 14-hour drive from Niger’s capital city Niamey to the village of Bande. And the ride is a dreary one as the roadside is bare. The occasional, lone goat herder is spotted every few kilometres and the sightings become a cause of both confusion and excitement since there aren’t any trees, or watering holes in sight.

Dry, hot and often plagued with sandstorms, Niger has a population of over 17.2 million, 80 percent of which live in rural areas. Insecurity, drought and trans-border issues contribute to this West African nation’s fragility where 50 percent of its citizens have access to health services.

IPS has travelled here with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to visit a school that — on a continent where male involvement in maternal health is not the norm and, in fact, men are oftentimes not present during the duration of the pregnancy or the birthing process due to cultural reasons — is pretty unique. It’s the School of Husbands.

Formed with support from UNFPA in 2011, the school has over 137 locations in Niger’s southern region of Zinder. Members are married men between the ages of 25 and 50, but young boys are now being recruited to come and sit in on meetings — to learn from their elders.

As IPS arrives at the village early one morning, a group of musicians approach the vehicle playing ceremonial music; they precede a traditional chief who is being escorted by his most trusted counsel and a throng of personal security who frantically chase away curious children with sticks.

Yahya Louche is the chief of Bande and he stops to talk to IPS about maternal health and the importance of involving men.

“I am a member of the School of Husbands,” Louche says of the informal institution that brings together married men to discuss the gains of reproductive health, family planning and empowerment.

“The School of Husbands is where there is no teacher and there is not student,” Louche continues, adding, “They are not getting paid, they are working for the well being of the population.”

The School of Husbands is a prime example of what can happen when men stand shoulder to shoulder with women, promoting safe births.

The Perils of No Care 

While visiting the health centre near the chief’s homestead, IPS spots a young woman making her way across the compound to the maternity room. She is weak and can barely make eye contact while two friends hold her up by each arm.

IPS is told that she delivered a baby at home and has walked kilometres to get help because she began bleeding profusely – it is an obstetrical emergency known as postpartum haemorrhage (PPH).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), PPH is responsible for about 25 percent of maternal mortality. Without prenatal or antenatal visits during pregnancy, complications are more likely to arise — some often leading to death.

“Before the School of Husbands, women didn’t want to go for delivery at health centres, they would stay at home and have their babies,” Louche explains.

According to the World Bank, Niger has a Maternal Mortality Ration (MMR) of 630 to 100,000 live births.

Women in Niger suffer.

It is a very well-known custom in the country that women are not to show their pain or discomfort. When they give birth, it is often in silence.  The woman on the delivery table makes no sound though pain is very visible on her face.

Madame Doudou Aissatoo, a midwife in Konni, a town in Niger, tells IPS that it is important to have reproductive health and family planning services readily available because many women walk for miles to come to the health centres. If commodities and services, or even midwives are unavailable, the women will leave and not return for a very long time.

“The very critical thing is to integrate it in the package; when a woman comes to the health centre for whatever reason, she has to get the family planning right away, whether it is a routine health check-up or something serious. Even on Saturday or Sunday, if a woman comes to the health centre, she’ll get it,” Aissatoo says.

Returning Home to Promote Health

The ancient story is quite fascinating; when a young boy leaves his homestead to find greener pastures, a time will mostly likely come when the folks back home call upon the man to become chief.

Often leaving the diaspora to fulfil his duties, a request to become chief is one that cannot be refused for turning it down is the equivalent to shaming ones ancestors.

It is such that the chiefs in Niger today come from different professional backgrounds and many have been doctors, diplomats and professors.

Traditional chiefs in Niger are the most important leaders — even heads of state and presidents seek their council before making big decisions. Without their blessing, one can assume that the road ahead will be difficult.

The UNFPA country office has understood the role that traditional chiefs play and has built a partnership in favour of promoting the health and rights of women.

In 2012, the traditional chiefs of Niger signed an agreement with UNFPA furthering a commitment to improve the health conditions of women.

“When we gathered in 2012, we made a commitment as an organisation to work with UNFPA in order to reduce the demographic growth, be part of sensitisation activities and gear towards improving reproductive health,” Louche explains.

When asked if she feels good about her husband participating in the institution, Fassouma Manzo, a local woman replies ecstatically: “Very much!”

A round of applause follows Manzo’s declaration as she continues, “before the School of Husbands, men didn’t have discussions with their women; but now, there is an issue for which they are very interested. As a woman, you can now find a space where you can talk and share with your man.  It’s a great side effect!”

Louche, a charismatic chief who spends much time talking to his constituents truly believes that empowering men puts the focus put on women.

The School of Husbands doesn’t just highlight the importance of seeking professional medical care when pregnant, but it also works to promote understanding between men and women — a gain that will only foster harmony for both sexes.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted through Twitter on: @Erakit

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Africa’s Dividing Farmlands A Threat To Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:56:03 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136566 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

When Kiprui Kibet pictures his future as a maize farmer in the fertile Uasin Gishu county in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, all he sees is the ever-decreasing plot of land that he has to farm on.

“I used to farm on 40 hectares but now I only have 0.8 hectares. My father had 10 sons and we all wanted to own a piece of the farmland. Subdivision … ate into the actual farmland,” Kibet tells IPS. “From 3,200 bags a harvest, now I only produce 20 bags, at times even less.”

Experts say that Africa’s extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security.

Statistics by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) show that a majority of Africa’s farmers now farm on less than one hectare of land.

According to FAO, in the last 10 years the land/person in agriculture ratio in Kenya declined from 0.264 to the current 0.219. Explained as a percentage, this means that the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land in Kenya decreased by 17 percent over the last decade.

Within the same period, the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land declined by 13 percent in Zambia and by 16 percent in Uganda.

Allan Moshi, a land policy expert on sub-Saharan Africa based in Zambia, tells IPS that while investors are rushing to East and southern Africa and making large-scale planned land acquisitions, “large-scale land acquisition not only reduces available land for locals, but what is available to the locals still has to be subdivided [because of] land inheritance.”

He explains that land subdivision has been driven by growth in population, land inheritance “as well as a shift from customary land tenures to land owned by individuals based on the belief that individuals can exploit the productive potential of land more effectively.”

According to a 2012 USAID report titled “Emerging Land Issues in Africa”, 25 percent of young adults who grew up in rural areas did not inherit land because there was no land to inherit.

“[People] just want to have a title deed even if it means subdividing the land to economically non-viable portions, while big investors are interested in high-value crops, particularly in horticulture, limiting available land for food crops,” Moshi says.

Smallholder farmers across Africa account for at least 75 percent of agricultural outputs, according to FAO.

“Small-scale farmers still produce more than big farms. Big farms often lie idle, investors hoard them for speculative purposes, they rarely grow food on this land,” Isaac Maiyo from Schemers, an agricultural community-based organisation in Kenya, tells IPS, explaining that 93 percent of farmers in Botswana are smallholders.

“They [smallholder farmers in Botswana] have less than eight percent percent of the agricultural land and they still account for nearly 100 percent of the country’s maize production,” he says.

  • In the southern African nation of Zambia, 41.9 percent of farms comprise of less than one hectare of land, with at least 75 percent of small-scale farmers farming on less than two hectares.
  • In Zambia, 616,867 farms, which are on average less than a hectare, produce about 300,000 metric tonnes of maize.
  • In contrast there are 6,626 Zambian farms of between 10 to 20 hectares that produce 145,000 metric tonnes of maize.

Anthony Mokaya, of local NGO Kenya Lands Alliance, tells IPS that many countries on the continent are yet to establish laws that govern subdivision of agricultural land.

And while South Africa and Kenya have legislation on the subdivision of land, Mokaya says “the laws remain largely ineffective.”

While the Agriculture Act (Chapter 318) in Kenya categorically states that agricultural land should not be subdivided below 0.8 hectares, smallholder farmer Kibet says that “many farmers do not know that the law exists.”

“We subdivide not based on what the law says, but based on the number of dependents who want a share of available land, particularly where land inheritance is concerned,” Kibet explains.

South Africa’s Agricultural Land Act prevents the “subdivision of agricultural land to the extent where the new portions created are so small that farming will no longer be economically viable.”

South African land owners are prohibited by the act from subdividing agricultural land without consent from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

But as is the case with many African countries, Moshi says that subdivision of agricultural land has not been guided by the law.

“The problem is not the act itself, but the implementation of it. Many land owners are not aware that there is a law that prohibits subdivision of agricultural land below a certain threshold.”

Amos Thiong’o from Agri-ProFocus Kenya, a network of organisations working in agribusiness, tells IPS that extensive land subdivision is also affecting mechanisation of agriculture.

“Smaller farmlands will require very intensive production technologies, such as the hydroponic production where plants are grown in a mineral solution rather than in the soil,” he says, adding that some flower farms in Naivasha, Rift Valley were already using this technology “but it requires a lot of water.”

Titus Rotich, an agricultural extension officer in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, says “farmlands are becoming so small that with time, farming will no longer be economically viable.”

“Most families who, 10 to 20 years ago, had over 40 hectares now have to contend with less than a hectare. Meaning that the land is only used to set up a homestead, and to grow a few backyard vegetables and rear a few chickens,” Rotich tells IPS, explaining that previously a farmer could produce 28 to 38 90-kilogram maize bags on just 0.4 hectares of land.

“One such bag is sold at a significant amount of 35 to 50 dollars depending on the region. But many farmers are now lucky if they produce 20 bags because they have their homestead, their cows, chickens and so on the 0.4 hectares [and it is not solely used for farming],” he says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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