Inter Press ServicePopulation – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 20 Feb 2018 14:10:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 A Restructured African Development Bank Plans to Meet Economic Challenges Facing Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/restructured-african-development-bank-plans-meet-economic-challenges-facing-continent/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 17:52:16 +0000 Akinwumi A. Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154367 Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

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Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

By Akinwumi A. Adesina
ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire, Feb 16 2018 (IPS)

Over the past few years, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has confirmed its position as Africa’s premier development finance institution, generating significant impact on the continent’s economic and social development.

Akinwumi A. Adesina

To keep this positive momentum going, the Bank has recently re-designed its organizational structure as well as its development and business delivery model in order to become more effective and responsive to Africa’s economic challenges.

A more effective Bank will help African countries address many long-standing challenges, namely the immense electricity and power deficit, food insecurity, poverty, poor job creation, low levels of regional integration and industrialization, gender inequality, low levels of financial inclusion, particularly for women, and the rise in terrorism.

Overall, the new structure will expand the Bank’s business by moving it closer to its clients, improve the way it delivers services, and ensure that it can provide meaningful and effective development impact for its regional member countries.

A more effective execution of the Bank’s High 5 strategy will accelerate the continent’s economic transformation since, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the High 5s will allow Africa to achieve 90 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063. The High 5s are therefore the accelerators of Africa’s development.

The High 5s are backed by exceptionally strong investment programs, such as the New Deal on Energy for Africa with investments of $12 billion, the leveraging of an additional $45 billion to $50 billion into the power sector by 2020, as well as the delivery of 130 million new grid connections, 75 million off-grid connections, and secure access to clean cooking energy for 130 million households by 2025.

In agriculture and food, the Bank is investing a total of $24 billion over the next 10 years to help African countries achieve food security and make Africa a net food exporter. In terms of industrial policy, the Bank will make investments of up to $40 billion over the next 10 years under various flagship programs to raise Africa’s industrial outputs.

Finally, the Bank is determined to raise the quality of life of all Africans and, among other programs, create at least 25 million jobs for African youth over a 10-year period, turning Africa’s demographic assets into an economic dividend, accelerating the industrialization process of the continent, and tackling economic fragmentation across African countries.

In a nutshell, a more effective African Development Bank means a better developed Africa.

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Excerpt:

Akinwumi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-self-interest-countries-left-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:43:28 +0000 Sarah Bermeo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154300 Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind - Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Sarah Bermeo
DURHAM, North Carolina, Feb 14 2018 (IPS)

The world’s wealthiest countries today promote development abroad in a way that is relatively new. For centuries, some of these countries colonized the developing world. As former colonies gained independence they were caught in the international power struggle of the Cold War, often led by dictators who found it in their interest to serve as pawns in great power proxy conflicts.

Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind

Sarah Bermeo

A serious attention to development occurred mainly after the end of the Cold War. The focus sharpened in the early 2000s, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 drove home the realization that state failure thousands of miles away can have serious repercussions at home. Promoting development became a matter of self-interest for wealthy states.

The self-interest of developed countries affected policy on foreign aid, trade agreements, and even climate finance, as I argue in my new book, Targeted Development. The focus on development as self-interest did not usher in, as Prime Minister Tony Blair would have us believe, an era of enlightened self-interest where “idealism becomes realpolitik.”

Instead, development is promoted disproportionately when and where it serves the interests of wealthy countries. This will likely aid development in targeted states, but a widening gap will emerge as those not targeted are left further behind.

 

FOREIGN AID AND DONOR SELF-INTEREST

The pattern of aid allocation across countries has changed significantly over time. During the Cold War, geopolitical concerns drove more foreign aid to countries that were militarily important or held key positions, such as membership on the United Nations Security Council.

In the post-2001 period, donors focus more on countries from which they expect the biggest spillovers from underdevelopment: those that are poor, proximate, and populous. They also favor countries that send them higher numbers of migrants and imports. The impact of geopolitical concerns has become less significant during this time.

This is consistent with an increased emphasis on development and with focusing efforts in countries where transmission mechanisms—whether due to proximity, movement of people, or movement of goods—are high. Donors also care more about effectiveness in recent years, conditioning the type of foreign aid on the quality of governance in recipient countries.

Targeting foreign aid to areas where potential spillovers to the donor are high is not only the practice of great powers. Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have all favored more proximate countries in the post-2001 period—when you control for measures of need such as income, disasters, and civil war.

For Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, aid is also associated with bilateral migrant flows. The more a donor imports from a developing country, the higher aid flows are to that country; this is especially true for Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Taken together, the evidence shows that developing countries already connected to aid donors through proximity, migrant networks, and access to markets also receive more foreign aid. Those less connected are not so lucky. Aggregate data for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development donors show declines in aid to the poorest countries even while overall aid levels increase. Aid givers do not seem to favor states where development prospects are especially bad.

 

FOREIGN AID IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

This turn toward development promotion in countries of interest has gone beyond foreign aid. The number of preferential trade agreements between high-income and developing countries has increased markedly in recent decades, often tied explicitly to development promotion (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Trade agreements between industrialized and developing countries

 

A good example is the United States with Central America. The George W. Bush administration spent considerable political capital to bring about the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, which opened up trade for the U.S. with a market roughly the size of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The deal was rationalized in terms of self-interest: Helping Central America and the Caribbean develop would increase security and well-being in the U.S. Large amounts of additional foreign aid were funneled to the signatories to help them benefit from the agreement (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: US development assistance to CAFTA-DR countries annual average for each period

 

This is not an exception. Generally, a high-income state is more likely to sign a trade agreement with more proximate developing countries and with those that already receive a higher percentage of its aid budget. States excluded from such agreements are doubly disadvantaged:

They do not receive preferential access to the most lucrative markets and must compete on unequal terms with countries that do receive such access. The rise in these preferential agreements is in sharp contrast to the failure of the Doha Round at the World Trade Organization, suggesting that wealthy states are more comfortable opening up trade with developing countries in a targeted—rather than universal—manner.

Patterns of giving to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are also closely related to traditional foreign aid flows, instead of focusing on areas where climate-related aid might do the most good for mitigation or adaptation.

ANOTHER TRAP?

Poorer countries with connections to wealthier states are likely to benefit from the rising emphasis on development. They are more likely to sign trade agreements and receive additional foreign aid and assistance to tackle climate-related problems.

This is the good news—and it is good—because it is an improvement compared with the times where wealthy nations mainly engaged the developing world through colonialism and Cold War competition. For states not targeted, however, the picture is bleak.

Where migration—and hence remittances—is low, foreign aid will also be low. When foreign aid is low, the chances of being granted preferential access to wealthy country markets is lower too. Where geographic distance is great, economic engagement will lag behind.

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Excerpt:

Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Combating Africa’s Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 17:14:53 +0000 Ernest Harsch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154280 Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.” As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from […]

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A Tanzanian woman walks to the market as a petrol lorry passes by. Credit: Alamy /Wietse Michiels Travel Stock

By Ernest Harsch, Africa Renewal
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2018 (IPS)

Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.”

As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from a racist apartheid past in which non-whites, more than three-quarters of the population, were not only denied the vote but also denied land ownership, skilled jobs, and most basic services.

The country’s poverty rate, after a brief decline, has been on the rebound since 2015. While millions of South Africans have improved their educational and job prospects, overall income inequality in the country remains stubbornly entrenched.

According to a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), South Africa has the highest recorded level of income inequality in the world. And in this, South Africa is not unusual among African nations. Of the 19 most unequal countries in the world, 10 are in Africa, according to the UNDP’s Income Inequality Trends in sub-Saharan Africa, a report released in New York during the opening week of the UN General Assembly this past September.

While many countries in the region, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius and Rwanda have registered remarkable economic performance over the past decade and a half, lifting millions out of extreme poverty and making schooling and health care available to larger shares of their populations, others have lagged.

One obstacle to higher incomes for all has been the region’s entrenched economic and social inequalities. The contrast between the visible wealth of elites and the daily misery of most ordinary people makes the disparities seem unjust, driving popular anger and contributing to protest and rebellion.

As President Hage Geingob of Namibia—a country that inherited the highest levels of income inequality in Africa when it gained independence from apartheid-era South Africa in 1990—told the UN General Assembly, “As long as the wealth of the country is disproportionately in the hands of a few, we cannot have lasting peace and stability.”

Radical shift

Until recently, income inequality received only sporadic attention from development practitioners and policy makers. Before the 1990s they focused mainly on stimulating economic growth. It eventually became clearer that growing markets alone does not necessarily benefit the poor and that excessive liberalization can in fact hurt them.

When the international community adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, their focus shifted more towards anti-poverty measures and improvements in social well-being.

Poverty subsequently fell in many African countries experiencing economic growth. Yet despite generally robust growth, nearly half the continent’s people still live on less than $1.25 a day.

Studies have shown that where there is less inequality, the benefits of growth reach wider sectors of the population. In more unequal nations, however, the rich garner the biggest share and the poor get little.

That realization underlay the 2015 negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global goals call not only for ending poverty, but also for reducing inequalities within and among nations. The UNDP terms this a “radical shift” intended to address the “last mile of exclusion” that prevents many people from improving their lives.

In analyzing income inequality in Africa, the UNDP report focuses on 29 sub-Saharan countries (which account for 80% of Africa’s population) for which there is adequate data on household consumption. It shows that between 1991 and 2011, 17 of those countries managed to reduce their degree of income inequality. But the remaining dozen registered an increase in income inequality over the same period.

That divergence reflects the historical, economic, social and political factors affecting income inequality in each country.

Countries with higher—and rising—income inequality are mainly in Southern and Central Africa; they have capital-intensive oil and mining sectors with limited employment or are former settler societies that still have large landholdings.

Countries with declining income inequality, most of which are in West Africa, generally started out with lower levels of inequality and have predominantly smallholder agricultural sectors in which many people stand to benefit from improvements in productivity.

Income inequalities in different countries differ by degree, but the more important distinction is the factors that shape them. The root causes of inequality are rarely the same from country to country and may include restricted access to land, capital and markets; inequitable tax systems; excessive vulnerability to unfavourable global markets; rampant corruption; and the patrimonial allocation of public resources.

Although gender inequalities exist in all countries and are particularly severe in Africa, they are generally underestimated in most standard measures, which rely on household income or consumption data. Such estimates tend to assume equal spending powers among all family members.

While some countries have seen efforts to reduce economic disparities, others have been marked by opposition to such efforts by “incumbent elites,” according to researchers cited in the report.

The marginalization of certain geographical regions or the social and political exclusion of minority ethnic and religious groups can bring especially explosive consequences, the new UNDP report says, contributing to unrest and even armed conflict.

No single solution

Because of the complex, multidimensional factors influencing inequality, “There is no one ‘silver bullet’ to address its challenge,” observes Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UNDP’s assistant administrator and director of its Africa bureau. “Multiple responses are required.”

Africa Renewal, published by the UN’s Department of Information, examines many existing responses to income inequalities, including inequalities in education, those affecting a vulnerable group (albinos), those relating to business leadership, and those affecting Africa’s trade with other regions.

Whatever a country’s specific history and circumstances, a number of measures have proven especially fruitful in reducing inequalities across the region: increasing productivity among small-scale farmers, ensuring women’s access to land, reversing urban favouritism in services and economic opportunities, promoting labour-intensive industries, setting minimum wages, strengthening capacities to keep the wealthy from evading taxes, introducing strong social protection programmes and ending all forms of exclusion.

Ultimately, such efforts are intended to ensure that all Africans are able to live productive and fulfilling lives and to uphold the SDGs’ pledge to “leave no one behind.”

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Power of Partnerships in the Fight Against Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/power-partnerships-fight-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=power-partnerships-fight-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/power-partnerships-fight-poverty/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:23:27 +0000 Amina Mohammed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154237 Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to the UN Commission on Social Development

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In Haiti, children in the Port-au-Prince slum of Bel Air enjoy a meal. Credit: MINUSTAH

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

The 2030 Agenda is the most ambitious plan governments have ever developed to eradicate extreme poverty and safeguard our planet.

While it is a global agenda, it will only be achieved by addressing the multidimensional aspects of poverty and through ensuring ownership on the part of communities, local authorities and individuals.

There are many examples of local actors, cities and state governments in particular, that are creating new development pathways, overhauling their plans and budgets and taking other innovative steps to achieve the ambitious SDG targets.

Durban, South Africa and Cauayan City in the Philippines have aligned their development plans with the SDG targets, while local governments in Benin have made SDG progress a condition for accessing national funding.

Meanwhile, Kaduna State in Nigeria conducted a robust multi-level data exercise to analyze how all of its residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are faring in relation to each Sustainable Development Goal.

We need more of these local SDG leaders. At the 2017 session of the High Level Political Forum, it was revealed that local and regional governments have participated in only 57 per cent of the National Voluntary Reviews. We will not achieve the SDG’s if such low engagement with local governments continues.

To achieve the SDGs, all communities must be engaged substantively.

We must also increase our knowledge of local conditions. All data must be disaggregated, capturing the lives of residents in the most rural areas and densest informal settlements. And we must act on that knowledge with finance that reaches the communities most in need. Global and national funds must be decentralized and new financial instruments developed in cities and states.

As a former minister, I know the important role of community-focused programmes and projects. In my current role, I see, even more clearly, the value of local actions in realizing global development efforts.

You know as well as anyone the conditions that can make or break efforts to expand development opportunities to everyone.

Across Nigeria, local initiatives led by state governments, civil society actors and financiers are making outstanding contributions to poverty reduction.

The Ekuri Initiative, for example, which is located in the Cross River State, seeks to sustainably manage the forest as a community asset, generating income, subsistence materials and food.

The Smallholders Foundation is using rural radio broadcasts to educate 250,000 farmers on modern agricultural and environmental management techniques, to provide up-to-date market information, and give farmers a platform on which to advertise their products.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is at a crossroads. The country has an opportunity to build on recent economic, political and social gains and to leverage its vast human and natural resources to eradicate poverty.

At the same time, many internal conflicts are challenging the genuine efforts of Nigeria’s leaders, including the insurgency in the north-east, the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta and disputes between herders and farmers, thus undermining and reversing development gains.

To address these challenges, we must prioritize an integrated response to peace, security, human rights and development. And we must improve our efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts while promoting inclusive, sustained and equitable development.

Harnessing the power of partnerships will be critical. We must deepen the joint and coordinated efforts of the federal government, state governments, local authorities, private sector and civil society organizations. Nigeria has taken concrete steps in this direction.

Under the leadership of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria launched the first national Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), to coordinate public-private partnerships and amplify locally-driven solutions to achieve the SDG’s. The PSAG includes 13 diverse partners, including Lagos Business School, the Dangote Group, General Electric and the Sahara Group.

The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa is another inspiring example of partnership mobilization to achieve the SDG’s. Chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Aliko Dangote, CEO of the Dangote Group, the Center brings together national governments, civil society and private sector leaders to collectively devise SDG solutions such as advancing inter-country projects on sustainable infrastructure and development of new platforms to better connect communities to achieve the SDG’s.

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stimulated inspiring partnerships between the Ministers, immunization and health experts in Nigerian States and private sector companies to strengthen vaccine cold chain infrastructure in Nigeria.

Together with initiatives such as Project Last Mile and Coca-Cola, the Foundation aims to increase the number of Nigerian children who can access life-ensuring vaccines, with the focus on the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children.

Similar work is underway elsewhere in Africa, such as in Ethiopia, where the Gates Foundation is supporting the advancement of national priorities and reinforcing government leadership in the areas of agriculture and health- through partnerships across the country that aim to improve agricultural productivity and increase the coverage of life-saving health and nutrition interventions.

UNDP is also partnering with the relevant authorities to promote SDG localization in Anambra, Benue, Kaduna and Kogi States, and to support implementation and monitoring of SDG-based State Development Plans.

The promise of the 2030 Agenda to leave no-one behind cannot be kept without translating global goals into local action. This requires concerted and coordinated efforts at all levels of decision-making, and the empowerment of local actors.

To eradicate poverty and ensure a life of dignity for all, we must work with the world’s most vulnerable people at the level of their everyday realities to make extreme poverty a problem of the past.

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Excerpt:

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to the UN Commission on Social Development

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Inequality also Relates to Education, Health & Illiteracy, not Wealth Alonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 17:02:32 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154222 Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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A health worker marks a boy’s finger with ink to show that he has been vaccinated against measles in India’s Gujarat State. Credit: UNICEF/UNI133530/Pietrasik

By Bjorn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

Antipoverty group Oxfam International got a lot of attention for claiming that there’s a global “inequality crisis,” but a far more important point is entirely neglected: globally, income distribution is less unequal than it has been for 100 years.

The best data on this comes from Professor Branko Milanovic, formerly of the World Bank, now at City University of New York. His research shows that, mostly because of Asia’s incredible growth, global inequality has declined sharply for several decades, reducing so much that the world hasn’t been this equal for more than a century.

Moreover, the conversation on inequality sparked by Oxfam fails to acknowledge that equality is about much more than money. Look at education and health. In 1870, more than three-quarters of the world was illiterate. Today, more than four out of every five people can read.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.
Half of all of humanity’s welfare gains from the past 40 years come from the fact that we’re living longer, healthier lives. In 1900, people lived to be 30 on average; today, it’s 71. Over the past half-century, the difference in life expectancy between the world’s wealthiest and poorest countries has dropped from 28 to 18 years.

Oxfam almost entirely glosses over this reality, and instead points to wealth levels within individual countries. It’s true inequality on this measure has increased. But Oxfam overstates the case when it claims that the wealth of the world’s 42 richest people is greater than the bottom 50 percent of the planet (3.7 billion).

A little less than one-fifth of the “bottom half” are actually people with a collective debt of $1.2 trillion: likely mostly rich world citizens, like students with loans or people with negative equity in their houses. It is quite a stretch to classify such people among the world’s poor.

It would be fairer, then, to say that the wealth of the poorest 40 percent of the planet (excluding those with negative wealth) is equal to the wealth of the top 128 billionaires. But this wouldn’t be as catchy as claiming that just 42 people own as much as half the planet.

Oxfam’s repeated claim that the top 1 percent own more than half the planet’s wealth lacks historical context. Thomas Piketty looked at wealth for select countries and found a dramatic decline in the wealth of the top 1 percent from 1900 to about 1970-80, and a smaller increase since then. Thus, it’s likely that the world is more equal today in terms of wealth than it has been historically, apart from over the past three or four decades.

Looking at the United Kingdom for example, the top 1 percent of wealth has increased, yet the data show that the country was still more unequal every year before 1977.

More relevant than wealth, though, is the measure of income inequality, since this determines our lives from one year to the next. Inequality has indeed risen recently. But what of the bigger picture? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most diagrams used by Oxfam start in around 1980, at the historic low-point for income inequality.

The data show that the top 1 percent of income in English-speaking countries has returned to levels akin to those in the early 1900s, while in non-English countries it has declined dramatically.

Oxfam’s core purpose is “to end the injustice of poverty,” so it’s unfortunate that its simplistic narrative points to a need for redistribution within countries while overlooking the many things — like global free trade lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, and vaccination campaigns that have nearly eradicated diseases like polio — that need to be maintained to continue recent dramatic global progress.

Too much inequality can reduce growth and stifle social mobility, so it should be kept in check. But it is wrong to ignore the bigger story of humanity’s progress against poverty and inequality.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.

All of these challenges have cheap and effective solutions. And it’s on these solutions that we need to focus.

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Excerpt:

Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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Healthy Nutrition Spreads in El Salvador’s Schoolshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/healthy-nutrition-spreads-el-salvadors-schools/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=healthy-nutrition-spreads-el-salvadors-schools http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/healthy-nutrition-spreads-el-salvadors-schools/#comments Mon, 05 Feb 2018 00:09:17 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154164 Eating healthy and nutritious food in schools in El Salvador is an effort that went from a pilot plan to a well-entrenched programme that has now taken off. The Sustainable Schools programme, initially launched in 2013 in three schools in the rural municipality of Atiquizaya, in the western department of Ahuachapán, surpassed expectations and has […]

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FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean Julio Berdegué visited the rural school in Pepenance, in western El Salvador, which has become a model in healthy eating, within El Salvador’s programme of sustainable schools. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean Julio Berdegué visited the rural school in Pepenance, in western El Salvador, which has become a model in healthy eating, within El Salvador’s programme of sustainable schools. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ATIQUIZAYA, El Salvador, Feb 5 2018 (IPS)

Eating healthy and nutritious food in schools in El Salvador is an effort that went from a pilot plan to a well-entrenched programme that has now taken off.

The Sustainable Schools programme, initially launched in 2013 in three schools in the rural municipality of Atiquizaya, in the western department of Ahuachapán, surpassed expectations and has now been replicated in all 22 schools in the municipality, and in many others in the country.

“With the 10 menus that we have implemented here, we have changed the student’s expectations about meals,” the director of the Pepenance District Educational Centre, José Antonio Tespan, told IPS before this year’s first parent-teacher assembly.

That institution is one of the three where the programme started, and over time became the flagship of the initiative."This gives us the opportunity to open new doors with other decision-makers to promote more integral projects... there are families who want a school garden, so we’re starting a project of family gardens in the municipality.” -- Ana Luisa Rodríguez

Now it has been implemented in 10 of El Salvador’s 14 departments, and includes 40 of the country’s 262 municipalities and 215 of the more than 3,000 schools in the rural area, benefiting some 73,000 students.

The project has had from the start technical support from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and financing from the Brazilian government. And although it officially ended in December 2017, it will continue because of its success.

“There was a paradigm shift and a sustainable school model was developed in Atiquizaya, it was a pleasure for FAO to have accompanied them,” the U.N. agency’s representative in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

El Salvador is part of a group of 13 countries in the region that, since 2009, have taken part in an initiative executed by FAO and the Brazilian government, extending the programme of sustainable schools, adapting the achievements of that South American country’s National School Feeding Programme.

This Central American nation of 6.5 million people faces serious socioeconomic problems, and child malnutrition has never been eradicated.

Chronic malnutrition in El Salvador was around 14 percent in 2014, in children under five, according to that year’s National Health Survey, the most recent. That exceeds the Latin American average, which is 11.6 percent, according to 2015 data from the World Health Organisation.

The students benefiting from the initiative receive a mid-morning snack, made with products purchased from farmers in the area, as part of the “local purchases” component, a key aspect of the project.

Students of the Pepenance District School in the municipality of Atiquizaya, in western El Salvador, pose for pictures in front of one of the nutritious daily meals offered to the students, which are made with products from local farmers. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Students of the Pepenance District School in the municipality of Atiquizaya, in western El Salvador, pose for pictures in front of one of the nutritious daily meals offered to the students, which are made with products from local farmers. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

“In addition to ensuring a nutritious diet for our students, at the same time we are strengthening the local economy,” said Tespan, the director of the school in Pepenance, home to 3,225 of the 34,000 inhabitants of the 67-sq-km municipality of Atiquizaya, which encompasses 13 districts (villages or small towns).

The school’s cook, 46-year-old Rosa Delmy Fajardo, a native of Pepenance, mixes fruits, vegetables, and eggs with enthusiasm. Her meals have achieved the approval of the students.

She told IPS that of the 10 menus, there was one she had never seen or tasted, the so-called “Chinese rice”, based on that grain, to which is added an egg cake, cut into pieces.

“When I make that, they eat everything, and there are children who ask their mothers to make them Chinese rice,” she said.

She added that she has been in charge of the school kitchen for 11 years, but has worked three years under FAO nutritional guidelines.

Before that, the menu was less nutritious, since it only had staples such as oil, rice, beans, sugar and milk.

“Now we have everything that is needed for the food to have another touch,” Fajardo said.

The success achieved in Pepenance was reflected in November when it became a finalist for the Banco do Brasil Foundation Award, in the international category.

The award promotes low-cost sustainable development initiatives with a major social impact that involve community participation. The categories are aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

“I am overjoyed about this award, for me it is a great achievement, and I feel proud,” added Fajardo.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Atiquizaya, Ana Luisa Rodríguez, said she felt happy and moved by the recognition obtained in Brazil, and hoped it would bring more benefits to strengthen the programme.

“This gives us the opportunity to open new doors with other decision-makers to promote more integral projects… there are families who want a school garden, so we’re starting a project of family gardens in the municipality,” she said in a conversation with IPS.

For the mayor, part of the key to the success obtained in Pepenance has been the work coordinated with all the actors and agencies that have been working towards the same end.

“Having achieved this intersectoral collaboration was momentous: the parents got involved in the construction of a storehouse, kitchen and dining room, and they were also empowered, they are part of the project,” she said.
For his part, the FAO’s González stressed that “in Atiquizaya the involvement by the community and local actors was vital” in achieving the result obtained.

In September 2017, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué visited Pepenance for a first-hand view of the achievements obtained, and stressed that the small Salvadoran community’s accomplishments are an example to be replicated in other countries.

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Wars, Crises and Catastrophes Drive Immigration to Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/wars-crises-catastrophes-drive-immigration-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wars-crises-catastrophes-drive-immigration-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/wars-crises-catastrophes-drive-immigration-brazil/#respond Fri, 02 Feb 2018 00:13:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154125 The war in Angola, the earthquake in Haiti, Venezuela’s political crisis and shortages and the political repression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the main driving factors behind the recent waves of immigration to Brazil. The largest and most populous Latin American country is no longer the major recipient of immigrants that it […]

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Haitian cultural producer Bob Montinard and his French wife, Melanie, are seen at the Haitian food stand they run at the monthly refugee food fair in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, where the couple and their two children have been living since 2010 and where they created Mawon, an organisation dedicated to helping immigrants. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Haitian cultural producer Bob Montinard and his French wife, Melanie, are seen at the Haitian food stand they run at the monthly refugee food fair in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, where the couple and their two children have been living since 2010 and where they created Mawon, an organisation dedicated to helping immigrants. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 2 2018 (IPS)

The war in Angola, the earthquake in Haiti, Venezuela’s political crisis and shortages and the political repression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the main driving factors behind the recent waves of immigration to Brazil.

The largest and most populous Latin American country is no longer the major recipient of immigrants that it was until the mid-twentieth century, which gave it its well-known ethnic and cultural diversity, with large European, Arab and Asian inflows.

Brazil, with a current population of 208 million inhabitants, had only 713,568 foreign residents in 2015, equivalent to just 0.3 percent of its population at that time, according to the World Migration Report 2018 published in December by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Almost nothing compared to Argentina and Venezuela, where immigrants represent 4.5 and 4.8 percent of the population, respectively, IOM Brazil project coordinator Marcelo Torelly told IPS.

But Brazil again became an attractive destination this century, especially in the current decade, when the number of foreign-born inhabitants grew 20 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the IOM.

“The main flow of immigration is now South-South from Haiti, Africa and Asia, not the flows from bordering nations, and surpassing those from the North,” academic Leonardo Cavalcanti, scientific coordinator of the Observatory of International Migration (OBMigra), a joint studies group of the Ministry of Labour and the University of Brasilia, told IPS.

There was an upsurge after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which claimed more than 220,000 lives, displaced 1.5 million people and destroyed the local economy.

Tens of thousands of Haitians sought a chance to rebuild their lives in Brazil, making up the largest foreign group in the formal labour market since 2013.

Brazil already had close relations with Haiti prior to the earthquake. In addition to sending thousands of soldiers and being in charge of the military command of the multinational United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, between 2004 and 2017, it also carried out social projects in the Caribbean island nation.

Among the Brazilians killed in the earthquake was Zilda Arns, who brought to Haiti the experience of the Pastoral Care of Children, a Catholic organisation that she founded, and which was instrumental in reducing child mortality in Brazil.

Bob Montinard, a 42-year-old Haitian, was working in Port-au-Prince on disarmament, conflict mediation and reintegration projects for juvenile offenders after their release, promoted by the U.N. and the Brazilian non-governmental organisation Viva Río, when the earthquake destroyed his house and his left leg was broken as debris fell.

Worried about the malnutrition of their children – including their unborn baby - due to food shortages in their country, this Venezuelan woman - who asked to preserve her anonymity – and her husband decided to migrate to Brazil. They sold their home to finance their trip to Rio de Janeiro, where she received excellent healthcare in childbirth, her husband has already found work, and the children are impressed with the number of playgrounds. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Worried about the malnutrition of their children – including their unborn baby – due to food shortages in their country, this Venezuelan woman – who asked to preserve her anonymity – and her husband decided to migrate to Brazil. They sold their home to finance their trip to Rio de Janeiro, where she received excellent healthcare in childbirth, her husband has already found work, and the children are impressed with the number of playgrounds. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Surgeries in France and the need for ongoing physiotherapy made him decide to move to Río de Janeiro, where he has lived since 2010 with his French wife and their children aged eight and nine, as a cultural producer and activist.

Last year he founded an organisation called Mawon, which in the Haitian Creole language means chestnut colour but was also the name given to black slaves who fled to freedom, like the “quilombolas” in Brazil.

“Mawon is neither black nor white, it is Creole, meaning escape and now migration, diversity, mixture, and against racism,” defined Montinard, explaining that the organisation is active in social issues, welcoming immigrants and helping them get settled in Brazil, and also has a business side.

“Migrants bring their culture, their food and their music. It is what they produce, share and sell in the destination country. Everyone wins: immigrants get an income, while they offer enriching knowledge for all,” he told IPS.

Cultural production is the best way to integrate immigrants, especially in Rio de Janeiro, he said while frying typical Haitian plantain snacks at a food stand.

Aryadne Bittencourt is legal protection agent for refugees in Caritas in Rio de Janeiro, a Catholic organisation that assists some 150 foreigners per week, to whom it provides a small financial aid stipend, job training and Portuguese language courses, to help them survive and integrate in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Aryadne Bittencourt is legal protection agent for refugees in Caritas in Rio de Janeiro, a Catholic organisation that assists some 150 foreigners per week, to whom it provides a small financial aid stipend, job training and Portuguese language courses, to help them survive and integrate in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

He was at the refugee food fair, held monthly in Botafogo, a Río de Janeiro neighbourhood, with support from the local Anglican church, which provides outdoor patios, from the Catholic organisation Caritas, and from the Local Board, a group that connects producers and consumers, to offer healthy meals at fair prices.

In recent years there has also been an increased influx of Africans, such as Congolese and Senegalese, as well as Syrians, while more recently there has been an inflow of Venezuelans, all fleeing poverty or violence.

In the past, the largest number of African immigrants came from Angola, a country that shares the Portuguese language, fleeing from the civil war that ended in 2002 after 27 years of conflict.

There are also economic reasons behind the shift in immigration flows, since the 2008 international financial crisis weakened the appeal of the United States and Europe, while Brazil’s booming growth offered many employment opportunities, said Cavalcanti, who is also a graduate studies professor at the University of Brasilia.

However, that scenario changed when Brazil fell into recession in 2015, and employment fell, which reduced the flow of immigrants, except for Africans. It also failed to curb the wave of Venezuelans, who, sometimes hungry, cross the border into the state of Roraima.

Garcia Malunza, 25, together with her year and a half old daughter, fled the war in Angola and took refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which she left in 2006 to migrate to Brazil, "for personal reasons." She sells African dresses and fabrics at the refugee fair held monthly in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Botafogo. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Garcia Malunza, 25, together with her year and a half old daughter, fled the war in Angola and took refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which she left in 2006 to migrate to Brazil, “for personal reasons.” She sells African dresses and fabrics at the refugee fair held monthly in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Botafogo. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

This was the case of the couple who, with two young children and with her pregnant, sold their house in Venezuela to travel overland to Roraima, and from there by plane to Río de Janeiro, where they were assisted by Caritas, which helps refugees and migrants in several Brazilian cities.

“We decided to leave because I didn’t have the food or vitamins to prevent my baby from being undernourished, and the children were only eating cassava and sardines. Our business went bankrupt because of inflation and we suffered threats because we were not supporters of the government,” said the woman, who preferred to remain unidentified because they still have family in Venezuela.

“I do not see any crisis in Brazil, nothing compared to what we experienced in Venezuela,” she said, praising the good treatment she received during her daughter’s birth, the possibility of freely buying enough food and “of living without fear.”

Initially they received aid from Caritas, equivalent to 95 dollars a month for a few months, and Portuguese language courses. With her husband employed in a hotel, she hopes to “settle down and provide a decent life for our children,” who love the many playgrounds and beaches that they were unable to enjoy in their country.

The IOM, which only opened its office in Brasilia in 2016, opened another one in 2017 in the capital of Roraima, Boa Vista, in the face of the humanitarian emergency situation arising from the mass flight of Venezuelans.

Its Displacement Tracking Matrix platform began to be used in that northern state in January, to help the Brazilian authorities manage the influx, with clear data on the immigrants, Torelly reported.

Of the 33,865 refugee claims in Brazil last year, 52.7 percent were filed by Venezuelans.

Refuge for political or humanitarian reasons offers a path to legal residency in Brazil. It has been the means of entry for about one-third of foreigners in recent years. But few applications are approved.

The National Committee for Refugees, the interministerial body responsible for the approvals, only granted refuge to a little over 9,000 people, and has more than 55,000 pending applications, according to Aryadne Bittencourt, legal protection agent for Caritas Rio refugees.

A new law, passed in 2017, aims to facilitate immigration and refugee status, but the way it is being regulated would tend to continue imposing obstacles, as does the red tape, she lamented.

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Gender Empowerment: What Will You Do in 2018 to make a Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gender-empowerment-will-2018-make-change/#comments Thu, 01 Feb 2018 14:39:18 +0000 Abigail Ruane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154117 Abigail Ruane, is Director, Women, Peace and Security Programme at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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Some of the participants of the 2018 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Credit: Marina Kumskova

By Abigail Ruane
NEW YORK, Feb 1 2018 (IPS)

In the last year, a women’s rights tidal wave flooded the world: over 4 million people marched in the first “Women’s March” in January 2017, and over a million marched a year later, from Washington DC to New York, from Sydney to Osaka, and from Rome to Nairobi.

Over 2 million people from 85 countries shared #MeToo stories of sexual violence on social media (#BalanceTonPorc #YoTambien #QuellaVoltaChe وأنا_كمان#); and powerful men across the tech, business, politics and media industries stepped down in the face of allegations.

Peace and conflict issues have not been immune from this women’s rights surge: Sweden and Canada have led the way with “feminist foreign policies” that included strengthened support for women peace civil society leaders.

Under Sweden’s guidance, the Security Council has made some normative progress: The percentage of the Security Council presidential statements referencing Women, Peace and Security (WPS) issues have increased from 69% in 2016 to 100% in 2017.

Women civil society took on a more prominent role in the Security Council on country-specific situations, with nine civil society speakers briefing the Council on the situations in Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others. This made gendered conflict analysis more available for political decision-makers at the highest levels.

Despite this tidal wave, the dinosaur of patriarchy continues to fight for life. The US restricted $8.8 billion of foreign aid connected to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in 2017, while pushing to increase military funding by multiple times that amount. Independent civil society voices, despite a rhetorical recognition as critical leaders on disarmament, environment and security, are slowly being choked through a lack of funding and a plethora of paperwork, with their lives often endangered.

Meanwhile, the women’s rights agenda is undermined by a check-the-box approach: initiatives on gender parity are moving ahead, but holistic action on gender equality are scrapped – just look at the proposed cut to gender advisers in peacekeeping missions, or efforts to “mainstream” rather than prioritise WPS.

As Martin Luther King once stated, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.

Around the world, women peace leaders are building alliances from the personal to the international to call for action to address the root causes of violence: they are demanding the prevention of arms transfers that promote gendered violence and calling for reconstruction that repairs gendered injustices and upholds women’s economic social and cultural rights.

This year, women peace leaders will continue their historical legacy to create a world of feminist peace based on demilitarisation, meaningful participation and gender justice for all people.

In Colombia, women will continue to demand the implementation of peace agreement commitments for zero tolerance on sexual and gender-based violence. In Nigeria, women will continue addressing gendered early warning signals with local authorities.

In Libya, women will continue to push for a civil society consultative mechanism for all activities, including conflict resolution, peacebuilding and counterterrorism efforts.

As the 2018 women’s march slogan recognised, “we are the leaders we have been waiting for”.

2017 pulled back the veil and mobilised conversations about women’s participation and security. 2018 is an opportunity to take concrete action that makes a difference.

What will you do in 2018 to make a change?

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Excerpt:

Abigail Ruane, is Director, Women, Peace and Security Programme at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

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For Millions of Indian Women, Marriage Means Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/#respond Sun, 28 Jan 2018 13:00:23 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154031 Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with […]

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A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 28 2018 (IPS)

Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with her new family.

But problems began soon after. Used to Chennai’s hot and balmy weather, Rekha hated Delhi’s severe cold in winter. The stress played on her mind; her periods became erratic. She also missed her younger sister and confidant Sumathi and her mother’s food.Marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas.

“It was a big cultural shock for me to shift to Delhi,” Rekha told IPS. “I love my husband, but it’s tough to cope with the pressure of living in a city so far away from my parental home. The cuisine, the language, the weather, everything seems so alien. It’s almost like living on a different planet.”

Nor is Rekha alone. As per the last census in 2011, over 217. 9 million Indian women had to migrate from their natal homes across the country due to marriage. These numbers reflect a significant surge from the year 2001 when 154 million of them shifted to a new city or town post marriage. In contrast, the corresponding numbers for men are staggeringly lower — 7.4 million and six million for those same years respectively.

Women’s migration across India is driven primarily by marriage, as pointed out by IndiaSpend, a public interest journalism website. In absolute numbers, a whopping 97 percent of Indians migrating for marriage were women in Census 2011, a marginal drop from 98.6 percent in Census 2001.

In fact surveys point out that women — whose place of residence is dictated by their marriage — form the single-largest category of migrants in the country. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage – either to shift to their husband’s place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Employment and education overall constituted 10 percent and 2 percent of migration movement respectively.

Unfortunately, despite the colossal number of women who have had to migrate because of marriage, the implications of female migration have not been sufficiently studied.

“The lack of attention to marriage migration means that very little is known about its extent, geographical distribution, how it has changed over time, and its relationship with age, distance, caste, household consumption, and geography,” says Scott L. Fulford in a 2015 research paper titled “Marriage migration in India: Vast, Varied, and Misunderstood”.

Fulford writes that marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas. It also varies substantially across India, and little appears to have changed over the decades. But rather than an independent phenomenon, this type of migration is part of a “larger puzzle of low workforce participation, education, and bargaining power of women in India.”

“Although there are significant regional differences, most of India practices some form of patrilocal village exogamy in which women are married outside of their natal village, joining their husband’s family in his village or town. Across India three quarters of women older than 21 have left their place of birth, almost all on marriage,” writes the author.

Experts opine that apart from testing a woman’s capability to overcome daunting challenges in a new environment, marriage migration also triggers a sense of being uprooted and displaced from usual habituated places and established homes to new locations, which requires considerable reorientation and adjustment.

Demographer K. Laxmi Narayan from the University of Hyderabad, who has tracked the levels of rural-urban migration in India, says in the essay “India’s urban migration crisis” that the reason for marriage migration across India is mostly cultural and social. “In north India, women are not supposed to marry a man from the same village. So invariably marriage means migration,” he says.

However, as traditionally feared, marriage migration doesn’t necessarily result in women falling off the workforce map. Many of the women who migrate for marriage do join the labour force, says a January 2017 housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry report on migration. Migration for work usually results in relief from poverty even if it means a rough life in India’s cities, IndiaSpend reported on June 13, 2016. A migrant from Maharashtra’s drought-stricken Marathwada region, for example, triples her income temporarily after moving to Mumbai, according to the report.

Women’s gainful employment, however, doesn’t discount the fact that displacement extracts its own pound of flesh. According to Kavita Krishnan, social activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the condition of women who migrate for marriage is analogous to migrant labourers.

“Such women feel vulnerable and socially isolated as they are not native to the place they shift to. They are often exploited by the husband and his family, not allowed to contact their natal families and their mobility is restricted. Domestic violence or abuse isn’t uncommon in this demographic either,” she says.

What emboldens the perpetrators of such abuse is the fact that the victim’s proximity to her family has been eliminated. Krishnan explains that the rampant cultural phenomenon of “bride purchase” — when women are bought from other regions to marry men in places where women are scarce (due to a skewed sex ration) — only makes the situation worse.

“These women are brought in from remote corners of the country and are mostly illiterate. With their near and dear ones living far away, their situation in an alien land is especially precarious.”

Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, believes  that an out-of-whack sex ratio in India exacerbates the problem of women’s marriage migration.

“In states like Haryana, which have one of the world’s worst sex ratios (914 girls to 1,000 boys), brides are forcibly brought in from other states, which leads to their cultural isolation and maladjustment. We’ve seen cases of illiterate women in Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh) being sold to men in other states for as little as 500 dollars,” she says. “This practice comes under the phenomenon of forced migration and is prevalent across many states.”

Such women, adds the activist, are also more likely to stay in abusive marriages as compared to those who live near natal homes and feel empowered to walk out due to emotional and monetary support extended by friends and natal families.

“If the women seek a divorce, which is rare, the prospect of courts taking several years to settle a case breaks them. Often these women cannot afford the several rounds of litigation involved and are dependent on others for sustenance. So she ends up compromising and living with her abusive families, especially if there are children involved.”

Where does the solution lie? Experts agree that due to lack of detailed studies on the subject, and not enough debates and discussions in public forums on it, no policies are in place to fix specific problems arising out of marriage migration.

“Normal divorce rules apply in such cases,” says Abha Rastogi, a senior High Court lawyer. “But often there are nuances involved which get overlooked due to lack of data and research on the subject. We need to address this lacuna promptly.”

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Closure of Ethiopia’s Most Notorious Prison: A Sign of Real Reform or Smokescreen? http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen/#respond Fri, 26 Jan 2018 00:01:34 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154023 Ethiopia’s most notorious prison lurks within the capital’s atmospheric Piazza, the city’s old quarter popular for its party scene at the weekend when the neon signs, loud discos and merry abandon at night continue into the early hours of the morning. The troubling contrast is one of many in this land of often painful contradictions. […]

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In early October 2016 a federal policeman stands guard between the Oromo regional flag (left) and Ethiopia’s national flag at the ceremony marking the opening of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, an apparent boon for the country's strengthening economy that at the same time angers so many Ethiopians who feel their lives are no better off despite all the economic fanfare and proclamations. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In early October 2016 a federal policeman stands guard between the Oromo regional flag (left) and Ethiopia’s national flag at the ceremony marking the opening of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, an apparent boon for the country's strengthening economy that at the same time angers so many Ethiopians who feel their lives are no better off despite all the economic fanfare and proclamations. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 26 2018 (IPS)

Ethiopia’s most notorious prison lurks within the capital’s atmospheric Piazza, the city’s old quarter popular for its party scene at the weekend when the neon signs, loud discos and merry abandon at night continue into the early hours of the morning.

The troubling contrast is one of many in this land of often painful contradictions. The Ethiopian Federal Police Force Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation, more commonly known by its Amharic name of Maekelawi, has for decades been associated with torture and police brutality—a symbol of the dark underside of the authoritarian nature of the so-called Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.The EPRDF has long been criticised for using draconian anti-terrorism charges to detain political prisoners, and then in true Orwellian fashion arguing those charges mean there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia.

But this January 3, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced the government would close the detention centre and release prisoners, including those from political parties.

An unprecedented action by a government not known for compromise rather for its stubborn intransigence to criticism of its oppressive methods, it took most by surprise, resulting in guarded praise from even the government’s staunchest critics such as international human rights organisations.

Since the announcement, though, subsequent proclamations from the government have muddied the issue and led many to question the government’s sincerity amid general confusion on all sides regarding the practicalities and terms of prisoner release.

What most observers seem more sure of is that the episode illustrates the speed and scale of change occurring among the four parties that constitute the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party.

“The decision was a concession to the very strong demand made by the Oromo People Democratic Organisation (OPDP) which governs the Oromia regional state,” says Awol Allo, an Ethiopian lecturer in law at Keele University in the UK, who can’t return to Ethiopia for fear of arrest.

The EPRDF was the brainchild of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Marxist-Leninist movement that spearheaded the defeat of Ethiopia’s former military dictatorship the Derg to liberate the Tigray region, whose Tigrayan ethnic group constitute only about 6.5 percent of Ethiopia’s more than 100 million population today.

In the final days of Ethiopia’s civil war, the TPLF orchestrated the creation of three satellite parties from other elements of the rebel force: the OPDO, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) to ostensibly represent their respective ethnic groups but which enabled the TPLF to consolidate its grip on power after the Derg fell in 1991.

That grip became vice like over the years—the TPLF dominates business and the economy as well as the country’s military and security apparatus—much to the consternation of Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups, especially the Oromo.

Constituting 35 percent of Ethiopia’s population, the Oromo are its largest ethnic group. They also constitute the largest proportion of inmates at Maekelawi and in the rest of country’s federal and regional prisons. This, Allo notes, cannot be explained simply by the numerical size of the Oromo population.

“There is a disproportionate and indiscriminate repression of the Oromo because they are suspected to pose a threat by virtue of their status as the single largest ethnic group in the country,” Allo says.

That perceived threat has only increased in the government’s eyes—as well as among some of the other ethnic minorities in the country such as the Somali—since November of 2015 when Oromos took to the streets at the start of a protest movement that continues to this day.

And since the protesting Oromo were joined by the Amhara in 2016—the two ethnic groups representing 67 percent of the population—the government has had to recognise the depth and scale of anger against it.

Hence it is now trying to appease the groundswell of discontent in the country that poses the greatest threat to the country’s stability—perhaps even the survival of the Ethiopian nation state itself—since 1991; the risk of state failure in Ethiopia saw it ranked 15th out of 178 countries—up from 24th in 2016—in the annual Fragile States Index by the Fund for Peace.

The problem, though, with such mollifying efforts by the government, as with the current announcement, is they usually don’t go the necessary distance.

“The EPRDF has taken responsibility for the political crisis in the country and has apologised for its leadership failures and undemocratic actions,” says Lidetu Ayele, founder of the local opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party. “But it has not accepted the presence of political prisoners in the country. These are contradictory outlooks and a clear manifestation that the ruling party is not ready to make genuine reform.”

The EPRDF has long been criticised—domestically and internationally—for using draconian anti-terrorism charges to detain political prisoners, and then in true Orwellian fashion arguing those charges mean there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia. Human rights groups have estimated political prisoner numbers in the tens of thousands.

The Oromo are proud of their cultural traditions and enjoy opportunities to celebrate that heritage. They also share a common language, Afaan Oromoo, also known as Oromoiffa, which belongs to the Cushitic family, unlike Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which is Semitic. A different language is only one of many sources of tension the Oromo have within the Ethiopian federation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The Oromo are proud of their cultural traditions and enjoy opportunities to celebrate that heritage. They also share a common language, Afaan Oromoo, also known as Oromoiffa, which belongs to the Cushitic family, unlike Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which is Semitic. A different language is only one of many sources of tension the Oromo have within the Ethiopian federation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

With the announcement about Maekelawi and the prisoner release, however, it initially appeared the government was making a clear break with the past and acknowledging the existence of political prisoners. But soon afterwards it tried to backtrack, with government spokespersons vacillating about what had been meant by political prisoners.

“The announcement of the release of prisoners is highly symptomatic of the disorganization, if not the cacophony, among the leadership,” says René Lefort, who has been visiting and writing about Ethiopia since the 1974 revolution that ended emperor Haile Selassie’s reign and brought in the Derg military dictatorship that would fall to the EPRDF.

“This decision could have been the most resounding proof of the sincerity of the EPRDF to launch a democratizing process. But as it has been announced in successive versions lacking essential points—who exactly is effected; when will they be freed, and will it be unconditionally or, as in the past, only having apologized—this decision has largely lost the impact it could have had.”

Such political flip-flopping and indications of infighting in the government leave some with little confidence about the significance of the promise to end Maekelawi’s history of torture and ill-treatment, as documented in chilling detail by Human Rights Watch.

“The closure of the torture chamber does not signify anything because the government will undoubtedly continue the same practise at other locations,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus professor at the William and Mary Law School in the US.

Others are less sceptical of the government’s motives.

“It’s not a smokescreen, it’s been under discussion within the context of the interparty dialogue ever since the parties stated their wish lists of issues at the beginning of 2017,” says Sandy Wade, a former European Union diplomat in Addis Ababa. “It is a necessary step in the run-up to the 2018 and 2020 elections—and for the future of the country—if [the government] wants opposition participation, which they do.”

On Jan. 15, Ethiopian Attorney General Getachew Ambaye gave a briefing saying that charges at a federal level brought against 115 prisoners had been dropped as part of the first phase to release jailed politicians and other convicts.

Although the attorney general did not mention names of prominent political figures imprisoned, on Jan. 17. Merera Gudina, leader of the Oromo Federalist Party arrested in 2016, was released.

The attorney general added that the Southern Ethiopia Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State—a region of more than 58 ethnic groups—had dropped charges against 413 inmates also, and that other regions would follow suit in the next couple of months, with political figures in jail who have been “convicted” of crimes given amnesty.

At the same time, though, it appears the jury remains very much out on whether the government is genuinely committed to democratization and achieving a national consensus in the longer term.

“If they are, this would be a transformative moment for Ethiopia,” Awol says. “Either way, Ethiopia cannot be governed in the same way it has for the last 26 years.”

Which leaves the big—possibly existential—question facing Ethiopia: whether the government can and will come up with the necessary strategy and then implement it successfully in time for the 2018 local and 2020 national elections.

“If the EPRDF wants to rescue itself and the country from total collapse, what we need is genuine and swift political reform that will enable the country to have free and fair elections,” Lidetu says. “Anything less than that will not solve the current political crisis.”

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The Future of Our Cities: New Agenda, New Faces, New Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/future-cities-new-agenda-new-faces-new-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=future-cities-new-agenda-new-faces-new-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/future-cities-new-agenda-new-faces-new-year/#comments Wed, 24 Jan 2018 21:24:17 +0000 David Kuria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153997 David Kuria is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow and a PhD researcher on project management in Kenya.

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City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By David Kuria
NAIROBI, Jan 24 2018 (IPS)

Urban development is one of our greatest challenges. While the world is highly urbanizing, our cities are transforming the nexus for the social, economic, environmental and political realities of our times.

The United Nations Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) predicts the number of people living in cities will almost double to seven billion in 2050 from 3.7 billion today. Unfortunately, most of our urban centres also are mired with growing unplanned settlements, the so-called slums, which have absolute no basic services while being home to over 1 billion people.

To tackle this looming urban growth challenge, UN’s New Urban Agenda, a 20-year vision for sustainable cities, was adopted at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Ecuador. There are also regularly-held World Urban Forum meetings that bring together great minds from the governments, political, development, academia and business to discuss the future of our cities. Next month, Kuala Lumpar will host the ninth series and lay down the implementation strategies under the banner “Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda”.

This Forum will contribute to global mobilization towards advocating for the common vision on sustainable urban development in advancing on the achievement of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With only 12 years left to reach the SDG agenda, the Forum must come with concrete plans for accelerating a better urban future.

 

Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas: 1 in 3 stunted under-5 children now lives in cities or towns

While Kuala Lumpur boasts islands of artificial rainforest, one of the fastest growing urbanized agglomerations stretching 2,245 sq.km around it, with 7.4 million people, has lost all ancient rainforests to destructive palm oil plantations. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

 

The late December 2017 appointment of Penang Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif as executive director of UN-Habitat is also an important current moment for urban development. She is tasked with driving the global agenda on the implementation of the new urban agenda, attracting diverse thinking and mobilizing different actors to support practical action on the implementation of this agenda. She will further be tasked to provide urban areas and cities with the right mechanism and guidance towards sustainable development path.

My take is that it is doable, but UN-Habitat must mobilize enough financial resources to make it possible. UN-Habitat must also harmonise the operations of the other UN agencies working within the urban space, including UN Environment Programem (UNEP), International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Women, among others.

One of the great urban challenges facing UN-Habitat and World Urban Forum attendees is to harmonise the sustainability performances of our cities. It will be necessary for the UN-Habitat administration to create a new framework for the City Sustainability Index (CSI) that will enable our city leaders and managers to assess and compare cities’ sustainability performance to understand the global impact of cities on the environment and quality of human life as compared with their economic contribution.

While cities have been touted as the engines for economic and political development, they have not received commensurate attentions in financing in terms of sustainability. We, especially in the Africa context, continuously use cities as garbage sites and pollute the rivers and water bodies and air. Crime is also rampant, there are health risks and other myriad challenges. Thus, a concerted effort towards urban performance, with global and national commitments (protocols for action on cities) should be enforced. We must protect our urban future.

 

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

 

Of course, any global agenda will require commensurate local engineered actions. In Kenya, where I am based, for instance, the approval of the Urban Areas and Cities Act (2015) provides an impetus to the global new agenda thinking, through improving urban governance systems. The Act is expected to be implemented by the country’s new government and it offers a good framework for proactive and inclusive governance in line with the new urban agenda. The Act establishes criteria for classifying areas as urban areas and cities and the principles of governance and management of urban areas and cities. It has provided for participation by residents in the governance of urban areas and cities.

With proper implementation, this Act will herald in a new era of inclusive management of our towns and provide an opportunity for diverse capabilities and dialogues towards improving our cities. The engagement and inclusion of different sectors including professionals, neighborhood association, business communities and industry in the management of cities as outlined by the Act offers a good foundation for championing local actions.

As we move into the new year, we can only hold on hope for the better of our cities, both through the capability of the global UN agencies and localized efforts to mobilise more resources to effectively and timely implement the New Urban Agenda. Time is of the essence.

 

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Excerpt:

David Kuria is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow and a PhD researcher on project management in Kenya.

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Excerpt:

Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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UN Chief Calls for Collective Global Response to Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/un-chief-calls-collective-global-response-migration/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:53:41 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153850 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

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António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2018 (IPS)

I am very pleased to present this report, “Making Migration Work For All”, which serves as my principal input to the zero draft of the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The adoption of this Compact stands as one of our most important collective priorities for 2018.

As we look forward to the zero draft, I would like to commend your efforts to date under the wise stewardship of Mexico and Switzerland, aided by the President of the General Assembly and my Special Representative, Louise Arbour. Allow me to express a very deep gratitude to Louise Arbour and her team – your extraordinary contribution was absolutely vital for me to be able to present a report that, I hope, you will find both bold and constructive.

We have an opportunity to fashion, for the first time, a truly global response to migration. It is an opportunity to maximize the contribution that millions of migrants are already making to our societies and to agree a set of actions to ensure that the rights of all migrants are fully respected.

My report describes the reality of migration today. It outlines what a system of safe, orderly and regular migration could realistically look like. It identifies key challenges and possible solutions.

And it calls for more concerted collective action to deal with the unbearable limbo in which many migrants find themselves trapped.

Let me emphasize: migration is a positive global phenomenon. It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline.

It is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies. But the majority of migrants live and work legally.

Unfortunately, others live in the shadows, unprotected by the law and unable to contribute fully to society. And a desperate minority put their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse.

Globally, migration remains poorly managed. The impact can be seen in the humanitarian crises affecting people on the move; and in the human rights violations suffered by those living in slavery or enduring degrading working conditions.

It can be seen, too, in the political impact of public perception that wrongly sees migration as out of control. The consequences include increased mistrust and policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement.

In my report, I call for us to focus on the overwhelming positives of migration and to use facts not prejudice as the basis for addressing its challenges. Above all, I urge a respectful discourse that places our collective humanity at the centre of the debate.

Migrants make a major contribution to international development – both by their work and by sending remittances to their home countries. Remittances added up to nearly $600 billion last year, three times all development aid.

The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants.

States need to strengthen the rule of law underpinning how they manage and protect migrants – for the benefit of their economies, their societies and migrants themselves.

Authorities that erect major obstacles to migration – or place severe restrictions on migrants’ work opportunities – inflict needless economic self-harm, as they impose barriers to having their labour needs met in an orderly and legal fashion.

Worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration. Aspiring migrants, denied legal pathways to travel, inevitably fall back on irregular methods. This not only puts them in vulnerable positions, but also undermines governments’ authority itself.

The best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration. This will remove incentives for individuals to break the rules, while better meeting the needs of markets for foreign labour.

It will also aid in efforts to clamp down on smugglers and traffickers and to assist their victims. Simultaneously, development cooperation policies must take human mobility into account.

It is essential to provide more opportunities for people to be able to live in dignity in their own countries and regions. Migration should be an act of hope, not of despair.

We must also address the drama we witness in mixed flows of refugees and migrants. What happens all too often with these movements represents a humanitarian tragedy and an abdication of our human rights commitments.

They are reflective of acute policy failures: of emergency response; of conflict prevention; of good governance; of development; and of international solidarity. I call for greater international cooperation to remove those failures and to protect vulnerable migrants.

In parallel, we must re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime in line with international law. My report addresses a number of elements for consideration in shaping the Global Compact on Migration.

I will highlight three: the need for action, the need for engagement and the need for a UN that is fit for purpose.

First, our focus must be on implementation. The past decade has seen an enriching development of both our understanding of migration and its grounding in human rights. It is time now to build on these declarations rather than simply reiterate them.

Second, everyone has a part to play. On this, let me pay particular credit to the incomparable contribution of Peter Sutherland, whose death last week is such a loss for us all.

Improving the management of migration is pre-eminently a matter of State responsibility. But it demands, also, the knowledge, capacity and commitment of many others.

The consultation phase of the Global Compact has benefitted hugely from the participation of a wide range of actors.

Municipalities, parliaments, civil society, the private sector, regional organizations, the media, academia and migrants themselves all have vital roles. Moving forward, I urge you to maximize the space for their contributions.

Third, as the United Nations finally ensures that migration is an issue squarely on its agenda, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves whether we are best organized and equipped to support the Compact’s implementation.

For you, the Member States, this will require consideration of how to ensure ongoing review of the impact of the Global Compact. What we focus on in 2018 may not be what we need to focus on in 10 or 15 years’ time.

We will also need to reflect on how best to ensure oversight of migration within the UN system. There are many fora addressing migration, but none with comprehensive oversight. This merits consideration.

I am committed to ensuring that the UN system is best organized to ensure that it can support you in following through on the Compact.

In my report, I stress my determination to strengthen how we work on this issue, consistent with my proposed management reforms and strengthening of the UN development system, taking full advantage of the IOM’s important and welcome move, in 2016, towards the UN System.

It is a phenomenon that touches on all our collective priorities – from the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals to the promotion and protection of peace and universal human rights.

I urge all Member States to engage openly and actively in the negotiations ahead.

I encourage you to work towards the adoption of a solution-oriented Global Compact on Migration at the International Conference in Morocco later this year.

I stand ready to assist however best I can.

The post UN Chief Calls for Collective Global Response to Migration appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

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In the Wake of the Millennium Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/wake-millennium-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wake-millennium-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/wake-millennium-migration/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:49:45 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153718 A century ago, Italian immigrants told a joke: “Before I came to America, I thought the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I learned three things: one, the streets were not paved with gold; two, the streets were not paved at all; and three, they expected me to pave them.” More recently, […]

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Memorial to migrants who died crossing, on U.S.-Mexico border fence, Tijuana. Credit: Peter Costantini

Memorial to migrants who died crossing, on U.S.-Mexico border fence, Tijuana. Credit: Peter Costantini

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Jan 4 2018 (IPS)

A century ago, Italian immigrants told a joke: “Before I came to America, I thought the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I learned three things: one, the streets were not paved with gold; two, the streets were not paved at all; and three, they expected me to pave them.”

More recently, Mexican and Central American immigrants have been drawn northward by similarly voracious demand for their labor. Starting in the 1980s, a massive exodus of Mesoamericans swelled, cresting around 2000. Let’s call it the Millennium Migration.

The majority of the migrants were Mexican, and most were undocumented. They were driven by powerful push-pull effects: the disastrous 1990s depression in Mexico next door to a boom in the States as its population grayed.

It’s clear that the influx produced modest but tangible benefits for nearly all native-born consumers and workers. Even the six percent of the workforce with no high-school diploma experienced few to no negative effects, suffering mainly from broader forces like automation and outsourcing. In an economic sense, there was no immigration crisis.

The migratory surge built on a century-long tradition: circular migration back and forth to the rhythms of the US and Mexican economies. Many migrants were driven by the Mexican Dream, sending home remittances and returning to build a house there.

This time, though, the economy pulled them into new industries beyond agriculture, like construction and lodging, and towards new areas of the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast.

The influx slowed after the 2000 dot-com crash, and ended with the bursting of the housing bubble and the resulting Great Recession. Since 2008, slightly more undocumented people have gone back to Mexico than have entered the U.S.

The Millennium Migration was the largest in U.S. history in absolute terms. It left Latinos as the biggest minority group with 16.3 percent of the population, and shifted demographic and political balances in many areas.

Nearly a decade later, it’s clear that the influx produced modest but tangible benefits for nearly all native-born consumers and workers. Even the six percent of the workforce with no high-school diploma experienced few to no negative effects, suffering mainly from broader forces like automation and outsourcing. In an economic sense, there was no immigration crisis.

Millennium immigrants avoided areas of unemployment, and gravitated towards places with plentiful low-wage jobs. If they could not find work, they usually moved on to look elsewhere.

Most undocumented workers lacked the education and English to compete with natives. They often segmented into parallel, complementary labor markets. And they tended to “bump up” natives into jobs requiring better communications skills.

Most labor and community organizations have welcomed immigrants as allies. The infrequent cases of immigrant-native workplace friction have nearly always been fomented by unscrupulous employers. Undocumented workers forced to live in fear and insecurity are much more vulnerable to management pressures to accept lower wages and worse working conditions. The best way to protect immigrants and native workers, most advocates agree, is to join forces to defend everyone’s human and labor rights.

Those rights, under international law and the U.S. Constitution, are nearly the same for immigrants as for citizens. Yet the immigration system makes it difficult for many immigrants to exercise them. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ruled twice against the U.S. government for discriminating against Mexican workers. And the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants has criticized the U.S. for biased and inhumane treatment of immigrants, especially children, and denial of due process for them.

Entering the country without papers is not a crime. It’s an administrative infraction similar to parking overtime or trespassing for a benign purpose. Most of us are no less “illegal”: we routinely exceed speed limits or commit other minor violations.

Over recent decades, though, demagogues like pundit Lou Dobbs and ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio have incubated a nativist and racist constituency by scapegoating immigrants. Now the Trump administration has made the West Wing a bouncy house for bigots, who are lighting the neo-Nazis’ and Ku Klux Klan’s torches.

 

Names of migrants who died crossing, on U.S.-Mexico border fence, Tijuana. Credit: Peter Costantini

Names of migrants who died crossing, on U.S.-Mexico border fence, Tijuana. Credit: Peter Costantini

 

A half-century-long escalation of unjust laws and repressive enforcement – dubbed “Juan Crow” – has manufactured “illegals” by criminalizing immigration and militarizing the border. Juan Crow set quotas for Mexicans so low that it left them no practical way to migrate legally. It legislatively twisted simply re-entering the country and other minor misdemeanors into phony “aggravated felonies”, punishable by prison and deportation. And it continually feeds a guaranteed stream of non-criminals through a judicial assembly line into abusive private prisons, whose owners bankroll their congressional enablers.

To the kids who skip school because they’re afraid that their parents will be taken away while they’re gone, this persecution must feel a lot like a police state. To those imprisoned for non-crimes, the detention centers must feel a lot like a gulag.

Juan Crow has multiplied the border enforcement budget many times. It has not been very effective at keeping out immigrants, but it has raised the costs in money and lives by pushing crossers out into the Sonoran Desert.

The gold-plated iron fist has also effectively backstopped and subsidized Mexican organized crime. The narcos now tax or control most crossings. Trafficking, kidnapping and extorting migrants may be a bigger profit center for some than drugs. To avoid them, many crossers either overstay visas or cross concealed at a legal port of entry.

The increased dangers and costs have also forced many migrants to stop circulating. This has created a paperless but deeply rooted diaspora of over 11 million. Two-thirds of them have lived here for more than 10 years, and nearly half of these own houses. More than four-fifths of their children are U.S. citizens, while many of the rest are Dreamers.

Today, shrinking demographic and economic pressures in Mexico make another mass migration improbable. More non-Mexicans than Mexicans are now detained at the border, both in much reduced numbers. And China and India have passed Mexico as the leading sources of new immigrants.

The Millennium Migration has enriched the “gorgeous mosaic” that we’re still struggling to become. Yet its realities are continually distorted by restrictionist immigrant-bashing.

We expected the migrants to pick our crops, build our houses and clean our hotel rooms. But they did much more: they became part of our communities and economies. A decade later, those millions without papers have earned a freeway to citizenship, starting with the Dreamers and their families.

Minimal human decency – and enlightened self-interest – demand that we dismantle Juan Crow. These pilgrims merit paths out of the desert that let them reunite families and reestablish circular migration responsive to needs north and south of the border. Safeguards should prevent employers from taking advantage of immigrant or native workers.

Mexican-American comedian George Lopez said that when people ask him how he feels about Trump’s proposed wall, he tells them, “You know what? We’ll get over it.”

At a recent gathering, a man in a cowboy hat put it more bluntly: “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos, y si nos sacan, nos regresamos.” – “Here we are, and we’re not leaving, and if they kick us out, we’ll come right back.”

 

Peter Costantini is an analyst and writer based in Seattle. For the past three decades, he has written about migration, labor, Latin America and international economics for Inter Press Service and other news sources. He is currently embedded as a volunteer with immigrant-rights groups.

This commentary is based on a heavily footnoted and referenced paper, available for download from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59dffb37e4b09e31db9757cd

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Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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The post Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-power-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153716 Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

The post Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Nowhere to Hide from Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/nowhere-hide-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nowhere-hide-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/nowhere-hide-climate-change/#comments Tue, 02 Jan 2018 13:40:24 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153697 This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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A semi-submerged graveyard on Togoru, Fiji. The island states in the South Pacific are most vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A semi-submerged graveyard on Togoru, Fiji. The island states in the South Pacific are most vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
TOGORU, Fiji, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

The water is nibbling away the beaches of Fiji. Not even the dead are allowed peace of mind. The graveyard of Togoru – a village on the largest island of Fiji – has been submerged. The waves are sloshing softly against the tilted tombstones covered with barnacles. The names have become illegible, erased by the sea.

“Bula!” The Fijian greeting comes with surprise – no visitor ever comes this way. The village headman of Togoru was easy to find since only three houses are left of the village. On the beach, James Dunn (72) points to the drowned dead. “The village was even further behind the graveyard. In 20 years’ time, the sea has moved in a few hundred meters. The house where I was born is gone.” The patriarch remembers the graveyard being covered by the shade of the palm trees."Togoru will disappear soon. And our history with it." --James Dunn

Today, the trees are rotting in the surf. The soil around the roots is being washed away, until they fall over. Tree by tree, the sea moves deeper inland. The fields have become unusable for agriculture due to salination. The remaining village often gets flooded at high tide. “The waves knock on my door,” Dunn says.

The ancestors of James Dunn are buried here, but he can’t visit their graves anymore. His great-great-grandfather came all the way from Ireland to build this village. That explains his extraordinary name for a Fijian. Five generations later, James is probably the last headman of a village on the frontline against climate change.

Move or drown

Fiji and other South Pacific states are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. Most islands are low and remote, poor and insignificant. In the West, almost nobody cares. But the water has risen 25 centimeters on average since 1880, enough to wipe Togoru off the map. The village has already disappeared from Google Maps.

“The sea is stealing our land,” says Dunn. “The beaches where I used to play as a child are in the water. We had horse races. That’s impossible now.” Togoru has built five sea walls in the past 25 years. None could cope the force of the advancing waters.

If global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, the sea level will still be another 50 centimeters higher. But even this most optimistic prediction spells doom for thousands of communities in vulnerable coastal areas.

From the beach of Togoru, the Fijian capital Suva is visible. “The prime minister came here to visit. He said we have to say farewell to our village. Luckily, he isn’t abandoning us,” Dunn says.

The government of Fiji recently published a list of 60 villages that need relocation. For a country with barely a million inhabitants, that’s a lot.

Anne Dunn, James’s niece, has also lost her roots in Togoru. “Climate change to me means that we couldn’t bury my father and my uncle at our traditional burial grounds,” she says emotionally. The young woman was crowned Miss Fiji and Miss Pacific Islands in 2016. Now she uses her voice in the battle against climate change. “It affects our identity. We are islanders, our unique way of living is being threatened.”

The activist from Togoru was a guest speaker at the climate summit COP23 in Bonn (Germany), presided by Fiji. The small island state has taken up an outsized role at the conferences on climate change of the United Nations. It speaks with a loud voice to get attention. The micro-state on the isolated archipelago doesn’t have the means to battle the advancing sea. Any help from outside is welcome. ‘Vinaka’, thank you.

Monthly, more than 80,000 tourists come to the white beaches and colorful coral reefs. But the resorts regularly have to level up their beaches. Sugar is the second pillar of the Fijian economy under threat. A growing number of sugar cane fields are being destroyed by salination.

Extreme weather

Fiji is responsible for only 0.01 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. But it is being beaten relentlessly by the climate storm. “When it was all over, everything was flat. I could see for miles.” Malela Dakui (53), the village headman of Rakiraki, who witnessed another phenomenon of climate change: extreme weather.

On Feb. 20, 2016, Dakui hid under his table while wind gusts as strong as 325 kilometers an hour howled outside. Cyclone Winston blew away his roof, and his walls a few minutes later. The eye of the storm passed right over Rakiraki. The coastal village had experienced cyclones before, but never one with the force of Winston. Miraculously, nobody got hurt in Rakiraki, but elsewhere 44 people lost their lives.

Winston was the most powerful cyclone ever to be observed in the southern hemisphere. It was also the most costly, at 1.4 billion dollars, a third of Fijian GDP. Two years later, Rakiraki has not been completely rebuilt yet. The village looks like an outdoor construction fair. Between the destroyed houses there are many construction sites. Building materials and tools are everywhere. Since Winston, nobody wants to live in ramshackle huts anymore. But solid houses are expensive.

“Bula!” Everywhere he goes, the playful village headman is greeted heartily. He knows Rakiraki inside out. “Long before Winston, we sensed that the weather was changing,” Dakui explains. Climate change applies to his plate. “We have less fish because the coral reefs are dying. It has become too hot for taro, a popular vegetable. The farmers switched to cassava and sweet potatoes, but it doesn’t pay as well.”

The consequences of climate change on the weather are undeniable, the village headman thinks. “The weather patterns are changing rapidly. The rainy season used to start every year on the same day. Now the seasons are broken.” Since his house was blown away, Dakui knows more extreme weather is coming. Nevertheless, he is lucky. Rakiraki is slowly being rebuilt. Other villages are lost forever.

A lost history

Climate refugees are not a new phenomenon in Fiji and Tukuraki is the unwanted champion of relocation. This village in the volcanic mountains of the Fijian interior had to move three times in five years. In 2012, Tukuraki got hit by a landslide after extremely long rains. Ten months later the temporary shelters were destroyed by cyclone Evan. The third village was wiped away by Winston. The unfortunate homeless villagers moved to a cave for a while.

“For Fijians, land is the most important thing. It binds us. When we lost our land, we felt vulnerable and helpless,” says Livai Kidiromo, one of the village elders. The fourth Tukuraki is now his final home. The new and disaster resistant village was built with the financial support of the European Union. The modern dwellings can resist a category 5 cyclone, but offer no protection for the loss of their traditional way of living.

“Bula!” Apparently no other foreigner ever defied the difficult road to remote Tukuraki. That adventure is rewarded with a traditional welcoming ceremony and lots of kava. Men chew the root of the kava plant and spit the mush in a bowl with water. The brownish drink is lightly intoxicating. The chewers explain that the price of kava has doubled since Winston destroyed the fields. The production hasn’t recovered yet.

The new village is located on a plateau in the midst of an enchanting landscape. On the mountainside, the remains of the original village are visible from the new site. The jungle has retaken most of it. Only the church is intact.

“This village is much more comfortable than the old one. But we had to leave our past. That’s painful,” says Josivini Vesidrau, the young wife of the village headman, Simione Deru. He misses his birthplace. “I never go there anymore. I have to cry when I think of it.”

Climate refugees are a reality not just for Fiji. Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and many other neighboring islands are under threat. Kiribati is trying to prepare for its own demise, predicted for 2050. The government has bought 2,500 hectares of land in Fiji to relocate some of the 105,000 inhabitants when the last bits of dirt will be covered by water.

While the temperature rises and the storms strengthen, coastal residents have to choose: leave or fight. James, the Irish-Fijian headman of Togo, has another look at the turquoise water and the remains of his family graves. His cousin is cleaning up the garden for the Christmas party, maybe the last one. “Togoru will disappear soon. And our history with it,” says James. He doesn’t know yet where to go. “Fleeing is not an option. Fiji is not big, you can’t keep on moving.”

The post Nowhere to Hide from Climate Change appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

The post Nowhere to Hide from Climate Change appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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“Only Our Youth Can Save the Planet” – Kumi Naidoohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:44:46 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153638 “Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.” That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.” After battling apartheid in […]

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Kumi Naidoo

By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

“Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.”

That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.”

After battling apartheid in South Africa, Kumi Naidoo led numerous global campaigns to protect
human rights.

Among other organizations, he headed CIVICUS, an alliance for citizen participation. It was at the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), organized by CIVICUS in Fiji in December, that Naidoo spoke out on youth and innovation.

“My advise for young people is: don’t put any faith in the current leaders. They are the biggest bunch of losers you are going to find. Because they are unwilling to accept that they have got us into this mess,” says Naidoo.

“Basically, we are using old solutions that have never worked in the past anyway,” Naidoo contin-ues.

Albert Einstein said: ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get different results.’ If humanity continues to do what we always did, we will get what always got: inequality, unsustainability and environmental destruction.”

How can young people steer the planet away from insanity?

“The most valuable role that they can play, is bringing fresh lenses to old problems. And not to be scared to be called romantic, unrealistic or idealistic. The so called realistic solutions to today’s
problems are ineffective.”

“In terms of innovation, I really think that the best solutions in the world – even on a small scale – are coming from young people. For example: Four years ago, a group of young schoolgirls in Zambia designed a generator that could run for five hours on one liter of human urine.”

Can local innovation change the whole world?

“We are obsessed with big infrastructure. We have to break out of that. In Africa, the rural popula-tion is short of energy. Big power plants are not going to help those people. Politics get in the way. And lots of energy gets lost in the transmission process. The solution is simple: small grids. All we need is 20 solar panels and connect them to 50 homes. It can be done quickly, it’s not rocket sci-ence.”

You have been a vocal critic of global bodies like the World Economic Forum. You proposed a system re-design. What do you mean by that?

“We are heading towards irreversible and catastrophical climate change. It’s one of the worst cases of cognitive dissonance. All the facts are telling us we have to change. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase of 100 percent of extreme weather. But nothing is done. Therefore, I believe that innovation will not come from people who are trained in an old system.”

“I’m inspired by my daughter. She was in her early teens when she said that my generation is con-taminated by decades of bad experiences. She was right. The current generation has run out of fresh ideas. Young people will learn more easily, they are essential to innovation. Like the founders of Google, how old where they?”

What’s your dream for the future?

“That young people could recalibrate our values and convince the world that excessive consump-tion does not lead to happiness. I hope that they take us back to basics: a sense of community, sharing and equity. I hope that young people will be able to take us from an polluting economy to one that is based on green and renewable energy. And that extreme poverty will be completely eradicated.”

“My final message to our youth is: you have to resist the old wisdom that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. If you wait until tomorrow, there might not be a tomorrow to exercise it.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the ef-fects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, 4 December through 8 December 2017 for International Civil Society Week.

The post “Only Our Youth Can Save the Planet” – Kumi Naidoo appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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